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Basketball Notes

Durant OK with Thunder

Team is poised to make noise

Kevin Durant didn't know what to expect in Oklahoma City, but he loves it. Kevin Durant didn't know what to expect in Oklahoma City, but he loves it. (Bill Waugh/REUTERS)
By Marc J. Spears
March 29, 2009
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Oklahoma City is small compared with most NBA markets. While the Hornets played there temporarily for two seasons because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, full-time NBA basketball didn't arrive until this season. And with all due respect to Oklahoma City, it's not Seattle, and it's a lot less glamorous than most cities in the league.

There were a lot of unknowns for Kevin Durant concerning what basketball and life would be like in Oklahoma. But in a short time, the budding superstar has come to a conclusion.

"I love it," said Durant in a telephone interview. "The weather is unpredictable. You don't know when it's going to snow or rain. But the people here are nice. Nice people. I didn't know anything about it other than playing here in college [at the University of Texas]. Flat land.

"But after coming here and seeing the city, I love Oklahoma. The fans have been with me every night. What more can you ask for?"

What Thunder fans can ask for are more wins, as the former SuperSonics visit TD Banknorth Garden tonight with a 20-52 record. But with Durant, other talented young players, plenty of draft picks, and money to use in free agency, Durant believes the future is bright.

Durant is averaging 25.8 points (fourth most in the NBA), 6.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists, and is shooting 42.5 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-9-inch, 215-pound scoring machine also won most valuable player honors for scoring 46 points in the Sophomore squad's victory in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star weekend.

Durant is not alone. He has a pair of young, talented teammates in second-year swingman Jeff Green and rookie guard Russell Westbrook. The Thunder have their own and Denver's first-round pick this summer, and their own and Phoenix's first-rounder in 2010. Oklahoma City also will have $14 million-$17 million in salary cap space to spend on free agents this offseason.

The Thunder's prospects have made Durant comfortable in saying he wants to be in Oklahoma for a long time.

"I like the nucleus that we have," he said. "I'm excited. I want to be here as long as possible. It's like family. I love being here. We're going to get better. We can get better.

"Hopefully, we will make the playoffs next season. That's what we're fighting for. We'll have a good chance."

Durant also is hopeful that interim coach Scott Brooks will be retained next season. The Thunder fired P.J. Carlesimo after a 1-12 start. Under Brooks, Oklahoma City is 19-40 and has been much more competitive.

Durant says two keys to the improvement under Brooks have been pushing the ball offensively and better defense. The Thunder haven't offered Brooks the permanent job and are expected to consider their options after the season. But Brooks's performance has made it tough for him to be sent packing.

"I believe that [management] will make the right decision," Durant said. "I have [Brooks's] back, but I'm not the type of guy that will go in the office to tell them what to do. But I want him to be back as our coach of the future."

The Thunder's future could have been even better if a trade for New Orleans center Tyson Chandler, for forwards Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox and the draft rights to DeVon Hardin, wasn't rescinded Feb. 18. Chandler failed the Thunder's physical because of concerns over a toe that was surgically repaired while he was playing for the Hornets in Oklahoma City. The Celtics were also affected by that trade falling apart, since Smith ended up getting bought out of his contract and signing with rival Cleveland.

"It's crazy," Durant said. "You never know what happens. It got rescinded. People think about what could have been. We have to move on."

But no matter what, the Thunder's success will center around the humble Durant. He has All-Star talent, and he hopes to make the showcase in Dallas next season, because that would likely mean improvement for the Thunder.

"I'm still trying to establish my team," Durant said. "They don't think about Oklahoma City. But hopefully, they'll take a look at us."

He's apt to have his say

If the Celtics and Magic meet in the second round of the playoffs, as expected, it will be interesting to hear what outspoken Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy has to say.

Van Gundy has garnered notice this season for, among other things, accusing Suns center Shaquille O'Neal of flopping; for questioning the Knicks about never interviewing Magic assistant Patrick Ewing, a former Knicks star, for a coaching job in their organization; and for saying the Celtics have used their injuries as an excuse.

The following are Van Gundy's verbal highlights from his meeting with the media before the Magic's victory over the Celtics Wednesday:

On college basketball vs. the NBA: "Clearly, I don't think [college basketball] is better. You'll see more good plays, great plays by players, in one NBA game than you will in the entire March Madness. That's me. It's not any knock on anything. These are the best players in the world going out every night."

On Dick Vitale: "He's paid to promote college basketball. I like college basketball. It's a personal preference type of thing. I have no problem with that. Dick Vitale is one of the best promoters of college basketball there's ever been. It's like draft night with him, it's funny to me. You know he's going to like the college player over any high school player. He was convinced that the Magic made just a colossal mistake taking Dwight Howard. I think that's proven that it's not that big of a mistake as Dick thought. That's what he's paid to do."

On Tiger Woods being a Magic fan: "If Tiger Woods is there, it's got to be an event in a lot of people's mind. It gives it that aura. It doesn't do anything from a basketball sense, but I think people like seeing people like that at games."

On whether his brother, ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, would ever be critical of him: "If he criticizes me, I will be [ticked] off. He doesn't criticize other coaches. He will speak critically about the game, how we are playing, and if we are not playing well he'll say that. But he doesn't criticize coaches any time I've watched."

Etc.

Cost-cutting measures
NBA sources have said that because of the struggling economy, don't be surprised if teams downsize their coaching, training, scouting, and video staffs during the offseason. A league source, however, said the Celtics are in good financial shape and aren't expected to take any of those steps. "The NBA and its players are very aware of its economy," said one general manager. "It's unique and difficult times. I wouldn't be surprised if there are adjustments."

I'm in if you are
Clippers center Chris Kaman plans on playing for Germany again during the 2009 EuroBasket tournament in Poland from Sept. 7-20, if Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki decides to play, too. Kaman played for Germany's Olympic team in Beijing because his great-grandparents were of German descent, and he enjoyed the experience. Kaman said he now has a "cool" relationship with Nowitzki that includes a lot of text messaging, and he also keeps tabs on his other German teammates. "I don't know if Dirk [is playing in Poland]," Kaman said. "But if he is, I'm going. I'm waiting on him. It's a big commitment. I want to make sure we have a good shot at it. And if Dirk's playing, we definitely have a great opportunity to be successful. The guys made me feel comfortable [at the Olympics] and I had a great time. It's a whole different experience than playing in the NBA. It's more like college." When asked about his command of the German language, Kaman said, "It's all right. I actually bought Rosetta Stone [language software]. I've been working on it little by little whenever I have time."

Removed from consideration
Speaking of the Clippers, an NBA source said ex-Lakers and Grizzlies general manager Jerry West isn't interested in the Clippers' possible GM opening because of the low salary the franchise would likely offer. Other rumored candidates include former Heat GM Randy Pfund and Lakers assistant GM Ronnie Lester. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy has held the GM title since Elgin Baylor was relieved of his duties last fall.

Ready to take over?
The Charlotte Bobcats have a chance to make a landmark hire if they go with Stephanie Ready as their color analyst for next season. Analyst Henry Williams recently resigned to dedicate more time to his role as pastor of New Zion Missionary Church in Charlotte. Ready filled in for 17 games before she stopped traveling with the team March 10 because of her pregnancy. Ready, an ex-Coppin State star, was an assistant coach for the school's men's basketball team for two seasons and also became the first woman to coach men's pro basketball in the United States when she was named an assistant with the now-defunct Greenville Grooze of the NBA Development League. Other than Doris Burke occasionally with ESPN, there hasn't been a female NBA color analyst, and a team has never had a full-time female analyst. While Ready acknowledged interest in the position, she declined comment. "Stephanie is an experienced basketball analyst and sideline reporter, having worked in both the NBA and WNBA, as well as women's college basketball," Fox Sports South executive producer Hammond Reynolds said in a statement. "She has capably handled analyst duties for our Bobcats telecasts on a fill-in basis this season and is certainly being considered in our search for a full-time analyst."

Home bodies
An NBA source said the league contacted the Celtics to gauge their interest in playing some exhibition games in China prior to next season. The Celtics respectfully declined since they expect a long playoff run and want to have as little wear and tear as possible before next season. The NBA's inquiry came as a surprise since the Celtics played exhibitions in Rome and London prior to the 2007-08 season.

Welcome aboard
The Development League is expected to announce this week that Springfield will be awarded a franchise for next season, beating out, among others, Hartford. But since Portland, Maine, was added before Springfield, the Celtics are still expected to be affiliated with Portland.

Back by popular demand?
Despite a mutual breakup between the Celtics and ex-mascot Damon Blust in late January, don't be surprised if a new "Lucky" is hired prior to next season. He was very popular with children.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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