The franchise moved to Oklahoma City and Durant started his second season winning three of his first 32 games, but he wasn’t going to allow the losses to define him or let a culture of losing permeate. So Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook — basketball junkies all — decided to change their plight by getting better and establishing a situation where hard work was the norm. New additions either got on board or weren’t around for long.
Players would arrive at practice three hours early or be looked upon as outcasts. Days off from practice were considered challenges from the coaching staff to still find ways to work on their individual development and improvement.
“That’s what we hang our hat on is being hard workers,” Durant said, adding that when players join the Thunder through the draft or trades, “those guys come in and see us working, and they’re kind of shocked, because we come in and want to get better every day, no matter how long the season is. Everybody is learning with each other and we got better as time went on. That’s how it is now.
“Coming in at 18, to an NBA franchise and being counted on as one of the main guys, it’s kind of tough,” he said. “But the best thing about it, everybody wanted to listen, everybody wanted to learn. I’m excited I’m a part of this great organization.”
The Thunder (12-2) is considered one of the league’s model franchises, with Durant at the forefront, but it didn’t record back-to-back 50-win seasons and reach the Western Conference finals last season without hard work — and some painful losing stretches that came from a lack of experience.
“It’s no secret. I wish I could say it was because of me, but it wasn’t. Guys just worked,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. “Kevin is a special player. No question, he is a talented, special kid. He believes in work. He believes in team. He believes in the spirit of the group and Russell is the same way. And we just added pieces along the way and we’ve developed all of our guys. Veterans and young guys alike are receptive of coaching, and that’s pretty important.”
Through it all, Brooks never let the age of his players become an excuse for the early gruesome results. “I never talked to our guys about being young, because that’s an easy out. That’s an easy crutch to fall on. We were young, but we’re still young, we’re going to be young for like seven years,” Brooks said with a chuckle. “I’ve always told them, we’re not losing games, we’re learning how to win games. That was pretty important, because we were 3-29 at one time but we still came and did our job. It was tough at times, there were times when you don’t feel good because you’re not winning. Everybody is down on you. You have to keep believing in the process.