OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant turned 27 on Monday. What do you get the guy who has pretty much everything?
How about what was taken away from him last season.
There's maybe no better gift for Durant than to be back on a basketball court, and he couldn't wait to unwrap it, arriving at the Thunder's practice facility for the team's first practice of the season almost two-and-a-half hours early.
Durant missed 55 games last season and hasn't played in an NBA game since Feb. 18 after undergoing three surgeries to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot. He has been medically cleared for 5-on-5 basketball and has gone through intense workouts for the past month.
“I feel great, actually,” Durant said. “It’s really different being out there in a practice setting. I haven’t been there in a while. It’s definitely going to take me some time to really get comfortable out there again.
"I've been injured, but I'm healed now. So I try not to think about it. If I'm on the court, I'm OK. So I'm the same player I was."
Despite the frustrations of last season, Durant enters his ninth NBA season full of the confidence. Asked about how long it'll take to rediscover his rhythm, the 2014 MVP says his game isn't back -- because it never left.
“The most humble way I can say it is I’ve always got feel,” Durant said. “Every time I step on the court I feel great. I know how to play the game. My body might say a little different, but I always feel like I’m in rhythm. That’s just from me being a skill player and knowing what it takes to go out there and showcase my fundamentals of the game. I always feel like I’m in feel, but my body has to catch up, I guess.”
The one area Durant said may take a bit of time is his conditioning, though he said he felt like he was in already in a good place.
“My conditioning feels great,” Durant said. “I know it’s gonna take some time for me to really get back to feeling great and mid-season form, but I’m on my way."
Monday's practice was also the first for new head coach Billy Donovan, who said the focus was working to establish an identity, specifically on the defensive side.
"I think it went well," Donovan said of his first NBA practice. "Guys were obviously very, very excited, certainly a lot of teaching to do in the first couple hours just to try and get a defensive system and a philosophy, trying to break down and teach. I thought we got a lot in, especially considering it was the first day."
Said Durant of adjusting to a new coach: "It's the first day. We've still got to figure it out. It's just the first day. We're smart players, and we know how to figure things out."
Donovan, the former coach at the University of Florida, is transitioning from an already-established position in college basketball to under the spotlight in the NBA. He knows about the standard adjustments -- from the travel, to the amount of games, to the age of the players, to not having to worry about getting kids to class -- but he also is looking to learn.
"The hardest part when you start practice is that balance between you're talking too much and they're losing a lather and a rhythm, and you're not really talking enough to coach and teach," he said. "So you're always walking that line the first few days because there is so much that every coach this time of year is trying to get in."