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Learning on the job
SEATTLE The indoctrination began when Kevin Durant’s angelic-white Nikes hit Seattle pavement in midsummer.
He stepped out of a black sport utility vehicle, now far from his D.C. days. His new work site, Seattle’s KeyArena, was about 3,000 miles away from Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Capitol Heights, where he learned the game.
Durant headed to an introductory news conference, where two men who would shape and reshape the first year of his NBA life flanked him. Sonics general manager Sam Presti sat to his left. On his right, new owner Clay Bennett. Everybody smiled.
Turns out the meet-and-greet is a prelude to a season of tumult and learning for the three, particularly Durant.
Bennett has received his schooling in Seattle’s civic arena. The owner is absorbed in legal battles, a result of trying to relocate the franchise to his native Oklahoma City.
Presti, 31, the youngest general manager in the league, has stripped the roster twice, expelling the reliable and expensive in an attempt to better position the Sonics for the future.
Durant? He has learned the thrill of scoring 30 points in Madison Square Garden needs to be left behind in the next charter’s jet wash. Same goes for the disappointment of a 3-for-17 night. The next game comes too quickly to glow or grumble in the aftermath.
He has learned his image isn’t always his. Before the first trip home, his mother is going to call about a “Welcome home, Kevin Durant” party. It apparently is set for the Water St. club H20 in the District, but Durant doesn’t plan or attend the soiree even though two pictures of him grace the flier, which says “Ladies are free all night.”
He has discovered he has to flip the switch and go to a signing at Electronics Boutique even if he’s tired.
He’s often reminded how much he hates to lose. The Sonics start the season 0-8, then later lose 14 consecutive games, a franchise record. Denver will make the team a national head-shake by scoring 168 points against it. Seattle, which plays host to the Wizards tonight, has only 17 wins, the fewest in the Western Conference.
Regardless, Durant keeps grinding, building, growing and, believe it or not, smiling.
“It’s the greatest job in the world, but a lot of young kids think it’s all glamorous all the time,” Durant says. “You have to be mentally tough, physically tough every night.”
Durant is averaging 19.6, a result of shooting 42.1 percent from the field. He has registered a paltry 28.5 percent from behind the 3-point line. He has gone scoreless in a half, had eight turnovers a game and made poor late-game decisions. Postgame, he often laments missing shots he says he normally makes.
In fairness, it’s not a surprise. LeBron James averaged 20.9 points his rookie year, shooting 41.7 percent from the field. In his second season, James’ percentage rose to 47.2. Cleveland’s four other starters averaged double figures to aid James in his rookie season. Durant has one teammate averaging 10 points — former Maryland star Chris Wilcox at 13.4.
By John R. Bolton
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