In Team USA’s grand finale of the World Basketball Festival — yesterday’s exhibition game versus France at Madison Square Garden — Kevin Durant didn’t have the kind of explosive performance many were expecting.
As the national team’s current headliner, Durant has been the face of the WBF and all of Nike and USA Basketball’s promotions this summer. But on Sunday, he had a relatively quiet 14 points and 8 rebounds as Rudy Gay and Chauncey Billups stole the show. Still, KD is unquestionably “The Man” on Team USA — only you’ll never get him to admit it. After shaking off reporters’ questions about being the “focal point” of the U.S. squad, Durant gave Dime a few minutes to talk about his busy summer:
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Dime: You went to USA training camp with two of your Thunder teammates, but Jeff (Green) just got cut and Russell (Westbrook) is considered one of the guys on the bubble. Is it tougher on you if those guys get cut as opposed to anybody else?
Kevin Durant: Yeah, it’s tough, but we all know the business. We all know how this whole deal works. I’m comfortable with all the players here — we’re like one big family now — but it would be tough to see Russ leave, and it was tough to see Jeff leave. But I just have to move on from it. We’ll all be better for it next season.
Dime: Have you grown closer to anybody in particular during this Team USA experience?
KD: All the guys, really: Rudy, Andre (Iguodala), Danny (Granger), Chauncey … they all do a great job of making it comfortable for everybody.
Dime: It seems like you and Andre have a natural chemistry on the court. He said you guys hadn’t really played together before, it’s just two guys with high basketball IQ’s knowing how to play together.
KD: We hadn’t really played together. But I always admired Andre before I got to the League. He makes it easier for everybody with all the stuff he does, and he’s so athletic you just toss the ball up anywhere and he’ll go get it. I think we do have that chemistry that will help us out when we get to Europe.
Dime: The Redeem Team got the Olympic gold-medal drought out of the way, but the U.S. hasn’t won at the World Championships since ’94. Is that something you guys talk about?
KD: Yeah, we have that in the back of our heads. We know it’s gonna be a tough road for us. It’s gonna be a challenge, especially with people saying we can’t get it done with the guys we have here.
Dime: Why do you think you can pull it off?
KD: We have the best talent in the world, but we also have that chemistry here. All egos out the door; we’re all ready to go out there and sacrifice. If shots have to get diminished, minutes have to get diminished … everybody is looking forward to just playing and doing what it takes to win.
Dime: A lot has been made of this team not having enough big men. Do you think that’s an issue?
KD: I don’t think so. We make up for it with our athleticism and our point guard play. We have guards that can rebound and athletic guys in the middle. It’s just a matter of us all rebounding and helping the bigs.
Dime: You’ve been playing a lot of power forward and even some center in these scrimmages and exhibitions. How is that working out for you?
KD: It’s about the same, really, because at the four I’m still out on the perimeter. I can mix it up a little bit, and it’s cool because it causes a lot of mismatches.
Dime: With this Team USA commitment, have you had time to work on your game like you would have in a normal offseason?
KD: Oh yeah. I’ve been working out; I make sure that comes first, no matter what. I think you’re gonna really it in the season, when I get back to Oklahoma City, what I’ve been working on. You’re gonna see it in spurts here (with Team USA) because I’m playing a different position. I’m not getting the ball as much as I’d get it in Oklahoma City. But you’ll see it.
Dime: So what are you trying to add to your game?
KD: You’ll see it.