NBA Saturday: Durant Feels For Hornets
Kevin Durant knows exactly what the New Orleans Hornets are going through. As a rookie in 2007 Durant played in front of empty seats, heard opponents cheered, and watched the Seattle Sonics become the Oklahoma City Thunder the following season.
Now, after watching the NBA purchase the Hornets last week, Durant weighed in on the sale.
"I never thought that [would happen]," Durant said. "But it had to come down to that and I’m sure those guys are really just worried about playing basketball."
Durant acknowledged that the hardest part of being in a situation like this is playing in an empty gym. It took some time for the forward to get used to that atmosphere in Seattle.
"I wasn’t used to that and it was an adjustment at first," Durant said. "We would play the Lakers, Suns or Cavaliers and we would have half and half. Half of the crowd would be there for us and half would be there for the other team. That was an adjustment but I learned to be numb to that and I got used to it. Once we got to Oklahoma City, it was a totally different thing. I felt like I was back in college. I was very grateful to be there."
The Hornets are a veteran team which makes this process much easier on the group. Durant was just eighteen years old when he was drafted by the Sonics and had to deal with all of the pressure and stress that comes with being a rookie on top of everything else.
"I just tried to get better every day and just focus on what I could control which was playing hard, listening, and learning the game. It was a tough year for me because every rookie goes through the phase where he doesn’t know the game and is trying to find his way. I had that time and it molded me into the player that I am today," Durant said.
The forward believes that getting Chris Paul back will not only help the Hornets get through this situation, but also in the short term as they try to compete in the Western Conference.
"Chris didn’t let that injury affect him," Durant said. "He’s come back and he’s controlling his team. I look at his box score almost every night that he plays and I see that he’s at eight or ten points, but has sixteen assists, four rebounds, and just two turnovers. That’s dominating a basketball game. He’s been doing that this whole year and they’ve been winning games so he’s back to his normal self. When he wants to take the game over, he will. I’m glad he’s back. As a fan of the game, I’m glad to see Chris Paul back on the floor. He does whatever he needs to do to win and that’s the kind of player I like."
Paul recently said that the players are just trying to focus on the things that they can control. That was the exact advice that Durant offered to the Hornets as they proceed.
"You can’t control who comes in and out of the arena or why they don’t cheer for you," Durant said. "The only thing you can control is how your teammates bring their energy and how you bring your energy every day. It’s pretty easy, to be honest."
David West’s Realistic Approach: The New Orleans Hornets had just dropped seven of eight preseason games and nothing was clicking for the team as they prepared to enter the season.
It’s easy to see why David West expected this to be a rebuilding year in New Orleans.
"It takes more than one year to get there. We just have to maintain our focus in terms of what we can do and how we approach things and go from there. We can’t set our goals too high or be unrealistic about what we are. I don’t think we’re doing that this year. That’s what we’ve done in the past and it hasn’t benefited us," West told HOOPSWORLD in October.
But two months later, the Hornets are one of the league’s most pleasant surprises and find themselves right there with the other contenders in the conference. Even still, West is staying realistic and trying not to let the team’s success change their approach.
"It doesn’t really change our expectations," West told HOOPSWORLD. "It’s too early in the season, we’ve barely made a dent in it yet and a lot can change. We just have to keep the same focus and mindset every day. We wanted to get off right away and give ourselves a cushion as far as getting wins when we could. I thought we did a good job of doing that."
The power forward has said that in the past, the Hornets didn’t have the players to compete with elite teams in their conference such as the Los Angeles Lakers. But now, New Orleans is just a game and a half behind Los Angeles in the standings and West is impressed with the group that’s been assembled.
"It’s not necessarily targeting anybody in particular," West said when asked about the Lakers. "We’re just trying to have a consistency with our level of play and then move from there. We have a common philosophy in terms of our approach and what we want to do as a basketball team. The more we stick to that, the better."
West’s contributions have certainly been a big part of the Hornets’ success. The team has launched a campaign to send their power forward to his third All-Star game. Fans have been encouraged to send West from LA-to-LA but that’s the furthest thing from his mind at the moment.
"I just don’t get into all of that," West admits. "It’s not a big deal to me. As far as personal accomplishments and stuff like that go, I just don’t think about it."
What is West thinking about? Winning games and keeping this team in contention. That’s why he is making sure the Hornets take things slow, stay focused, and continue playing at the same level that allowed them to get off to the quick start.
NBA News and Notes: Here are some items from this week’s news and notes bin.
• Russell Westbrook continued his coming-out party against the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, finishing with 29 points and 10 assists with Chris Paul draped all over him. While Westbrook’s play has surprised many around the league, both Kevin Durant and Scott Brooks insist they saw this coming after watching Russell dominate in similar fashion for the past year during the team’s practices.
• As the trade deadline approaches, keep an eye on the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. As one executive put it, those are the teams that will have first dibs if a marquee player becomes available because of their $14.5 million trade exceptions. Teams that are looking to get out of a contract will turn to Cleveland or Toronto, even over teams that have a sizeable ending contract to offer because they would still be forced to take on the expiring player’s current salary this season. Both teams are looking to use their trade exceptions and will likely be players as February approaches.
• "In this league there is no such thing as long-term anymore," Gilbert Arenas told Marc J. Spears. "Players are getting shipped out and shipped out. I’m looking at the Kings like, when I first came [into the league], none of those players were here. The Lakers team, the only person that was there was Kobe [Bryant], and Derek Fisher came back. "There is a young team here [in Washington] and they’re trying to build some chemistry. I guess until they find the right deal that’s going to get me out of here, you know … I’m here." Real subtle, Gil.
HOOPSWORLD Chats: There is one chat on today’s schedule. Susan Bible, who covers the Oklahoma City Thunder and NBA for HOOPSWORLD, will be taking your questions at 11am EST. As always you can check out our entire upcoming chat schedule.