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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
TO BOLSTER his bond with a group of youngsters that averages a mere 3.6 years of NBA experience (the Baby Bolts, perhaps?), Scott Brooks packed his roller bag and hit the road for his first summer since taking over as coach from P.J. Carlesimo last November. Brooks toured the far reaches of the U.S., making a point to visit each Thunder player at his off-season home, even if it meant picking up the tab at a swank L.A. eatery—where the diners included Cindy Crawford—just to get some face time with second-year point guard Russell Westbrook.
Star sightings aside, the most satisfying moment on Brooks's tour came in Austin, where he visited with the sixth-leading scorer of 2008--09, Kevin Durant. At season's end Brooks had left the 6'9" small forward with this message: "You're going to be a terrific player in this league; the next step is to show more leadership." Two months later Brooks watched Durant take charge of a group of Texas players and alums, organizing invite-only games that included 2009 All--Big 12 forward Damion James and pros T.J. Ford, Royal Ivey and D.J. Augustin. Durant would chat up Longhorns coach Rick Barnes to find out which of Barnes's returning troops required more of a heavy hand. When it came to his fellow NBA players, Durant cracked the whip for crack-of-dawn weightlifting sessions.
Brooks has stressed to Durant how important it is for him to continue showing those same leadership skills if Oklahoma City is to make a playoff run for just the second time in the franchise's past seven years. "We're all young, and we want to win right away," says the 21-year-old Durant. "But you have to go through the ups and downs. We can't rush this process. We have to do it the right way, stick together and be patient."
In other words, pencil in the Thunder as a playoff contender ... in 2010--11.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G-F Thabo Sefolosha, 8.5 PPG; G Shaun Livingston, 7.8 PPG; F-C Nick Collison, 6.9 RPG; F D.J. White, 8.9 PPG • New acquisition • (R) Rookie, college stats
COACH: Scott Brooks (second season with Thunder) • 2008--09 RECORD: 23--59 (fifth in Northwest)
POINTS SCORED: 97.0 (24th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 103.1 (23rd in NBA)