KD's summer not all chills and thrills
LAS VEGAS -- Kevin Durant will henceforth be known as the face of two franchises.
"The face of USA Basketball going forward," to be precise, is how Jerry Colangelo put it at Wednesday's impromptu news conference here in the desert, officially elevating Durant internationally to the same status he has held in Oklahoma City for the past five seasons.
Yet the rough reality for Durant is that only one of his teams these days is awash in excitement.
Mike Krzyzewski confessed to be deeply touched by Durant's arrival Tuesday night in the midst of this Team USA minicamp because he wanted to tell his national team coach face-to-face that he's committing some 12 months early to the squad that will be in Spain in the fall of 2014 to compete in the inaugural FIBA World Cup.
"I get chills just thinking that a guy of his stature and his accomplishments," Krzyzewski said, " ... would come here personally to say it."
The story back home with the Thunder, though, isn't nearly as warm. Not after a tepid offseason in which Oklahoma City -- still facing steep luxury-tax concerns even after trading away James Harden last October -- let Kevin Martin go in free agency and just lost out to the Memphis Grizzlies in the race to sign free-agent marksman Mike Miller.
Now we're talking about Durant here, so there wasn't a single word uttered during Wednesday's session with the media signaling dissatisfaction with the Thunder's summer.
It certainly left you wondering when the 24-year-old, when asked to assess his team's business to date in July, offered nothing more than "I love it" before walking away from the assembled press pack to bring the interview to a halt.
Which is certainly not the norm with one of the foremost gentlemen in the modern game.
Because of the long-term money invested in Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City made the decision to settle for creating a trade exception to salvage something from Martin's free-agent exodus to Minnesota. The Thunder, by limiting themselves to low-cost moves in free agency, are thus putting the onus on Westbrook's recovery from knee surgery and the continued development of youngsters such as Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to enable their star trio to be sufficient to keep the club inching closer to a championship.
Yet it has to sting to hear the latest rumbles in circulation about Miller -- personally recruited by Durant to come to OKC after Miami let him go via the amnesty clause -- choosing Memphis in part because Miller sees the Grizzlies as closer to getting to the Finals than the Thunder.
We repeat: This is Durant. So it's a bit of a leap to outright say he's dismayed with developments in OKC on the basis of one walk-off answer. Many of the reporters around him, truth be told, broke out into laughter when Durant brought a halt to the question-and-answer session so abruptly.
Thunder officials can only hope Durant was simply in a rush to do what always wants to do most. Which is to say ... play.
Durant arrived at the Mendenhall Center gym on the campus of UNLV Wednesday afternoon wearing skateboard shoes and some funky camouflage socks. But when the practice floor finally cleared, Durant pulled out some of his signature sneaks in neon green to join fellow Team USA 2014 cornerstone Kevin Love and noted trainer Rob McClanaghan for a round of shooting drills on a corner court.
"I hope no one looks at [Durant and Love's visit] as an overshadowing of these guys [in camp]," Krzyzewski said. "I think it brings a bigger spotlight to what they're doing [this week] to be quite frank with you. I think they wanted these young guys to see how good they felt about what's happened for them [with Team USA]."
Coach K needn't worry. All the lingering curiosities about Durant these days are Thunder-related.
There are no longer 12 spots open on the Team USA plane to Spain for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The Yanks are already down to 10 vacancies after Wednesday's announcement from the Kevins -- Durant and Love -- that they're both in.
And with Durant predicting that Westbrook and Harden will be making themselves available as well, Team USA might well be looking to select just eight of the 28 players who were gathered in the desert this week for practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday leading into Thursday night's NBA TV-televised scrimmage.
Krzyzewski, though, has been stressing to the campers all week to try to ignore the numbers and just play, insisting that "this is not a decision-making time" and that no one here will be eliminated from World Cup consideration until much closer to the day that Spain-bound plane actually takes off.
The practice-floor intensity was dialed back Wednesday, with Krzyzewski likening the array of drills to "the day before a medal-round game" after two intense days filled with 5-on-5 clashes at full speed.
Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, who suffered a sprained left ankle during Tuesday's workout, has been ruled out of the televised scrimmage. Ditto for collegians Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott, for whom it was always planned to keep them out of the week's main game.
But there are still two full teams that will duel in the 9 p.m. ET tipoff, with Krzyzewski's two newest assistants taking charge of them. The White squad will be coached by the Hornets' Monty Williams; Chicago's Tom Thibodeau gets the Blue squad.
As for the rosters ...
Anthony Davis showed up for camp as the only player among USA Basketball's 28 invitees with Olympic experience.
"I didn't even know that until you told me," Davis said.
The differences between 2012 and 2013, by contrast, couldn't be more clear to the New Orleans Pelicans' big man, who has won raves for his defensive presence from Krzyzewski.
"I hadn't played an NBA game yet and I'm stepping on the floor with LeBron and Kobe," Davis said when asked to recall his unexpected inclusion as a 19-year-old replacement for the injured Blake Griffin on the team that went on to win the London Olympics.
"It kind of had me on my heels. I wanted to be perfect around these guys. Didn't want to mess up. ... Now I'm just more comfortable, more relaxed on the floor, just playing my game."
After an injury-filled rookie season, during which he never really threatened Damian Lillard in the rookie of the year race, Davis has bulked up to nearly 230 pounds and hopes to be in the 235 range by the time next season starts.
Krzyzewski, meanwhile, doesn't hesitate to make it sound as though Davis can count on another Olympic trip in his future ... even though there are theoretically no promises for anyone who was invited to Vegas.
"One of the very first things you say [about this week's crop of big men] is how much Anthony Davis has developed," Krzyzewski said. "One of the reasons he was on the Olympic team is because you think he's going to be on a number of [national] teams."
LeBron James hasn't represented Team USA in a non-Olympic summer since 2007. So USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo never planned on even asking James to play on the team bound for Spain next summer.
Yet when it comes to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Colangelo & Co. remain quietly hopeful that James will decide to play in the Summer Games for the fourth time.
Reason being: James said as recently as May during the playoffs, when news of Krzyzewski's return to the bench for four more years began to spread, that he "would love to represent my country again" as long as the annual playoff grind doesn't take too much out of him.
It was by no means a firm commitment from James, who made sure to add that everything rides on whether "I stay healthy" while also noting that 2016 is "a long time from now."
But USAB officials are cautiously optimistic that James' stance about 2016 has softened after the post-London signals in circulation about LeBron leaving the international game for good.