OAKLAND, Calif. — Fatigued after a long flight home from China, Kevin Durant knocked down one baseline 3-pointer after another — making 21 of 22 and 19 straight before finally another miss had him hollering in frustration over the blaring music.
Stephen Curry wasn’t even pushing him this time in one of their thrilling competitions — just KD and a couple of capable rebounders.
The NBA Finals MVP wants more from himself. He thinks about it when he’s sitting on his couch at home.
Beginning his 11th NBA season at age 29 and fresh off his first career championship, Durant is as determined as ever.
In his second season with the Golden State Warriors, he is challenging himself to do everything better, down to setting great screens to get teammates open.
“I just want to keep doing the same things,” Durant said. “If I’m making five out of my 10 shots a night, I can see if I can try to make 5 1/2 or six shots a night. I guess that’s just the next challenge that I have for myself, just continue to do the small things with my game as far as my rhythm, catching and shooting, dribbling, one-dribble pull-ups, post-ups, all that type of stuff that goes into me being the scorer that I am. I’ve got to work on that every day, make sure that doesn’t fall by the wayside because if I take two or three days off from doing that stuff I’m right behind. I can’t take days off because I’m not physically as big and strong as a lot of guys that can use their bodies. I’ve got to rely on my skill a little bit more.”
He sure delivered on basketball’s biggest stage just four months ago, then — as promised — accepted a pay cut so general manager Bob Myers could keep the roster largely intact for repeat run.
Durant’s new deal earns him approximately $53 million over the next two years and includes a player option for year two. His willingness to be flexible allowed the Warriors to re-sign Curry for $201 million over five years and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala to a three-year contract with $48 million guaranteed, among all the other reliable returners.
Durant repeatedly curses when he misses during those heated post-practice shootouts with Curry. They rarely keep an official count on made shots or track who wins.
“I honestly don’t know exactly what the standings are when it comes to that but we always challenge each other,” Curry said. “I think the best thing about it is we both get mad when we miss a shot because you know in that competition that we have if you miss a shot you’re probably going to end up losing whatever spot or whatever drill you’re doing. Every shot’s important, which for us can transition into the game because you have that certain focus and expectation that you’re going to make every shot. Put a little bit of pressure on yourself while you can in practice in these situations.”
For Durant, it’s all about getting better alongside the shooter he considers the world’s most accurate.
“I’m just coming into work every day trying to get better and I’m going home afterward,” Durant said. “It’s simple. Just try to simplify it, so I get my work in and go home. … I don’t even remember last year.”
Durant is far more comfortable this preseason.
The constant scrutiny about why he left Oklahoma City to join a super team and the questions on how the Warriors could possibly share the ball so many ways have subsided at last. He has settled in beautifully to the Bay Area. The music and low-key vibe at team headquarters are now familiar.
Yes, Durant is at ease.
“Oh, yeah. Last year he was trying to figure out what the hell we were doing and this year he’s totally dialed in, understands the concepts,” coach Steve Kerr said, “comfortable in his surroundings, not only on the floor but off. He’s a different guy this year. … It took a couple months for him to get comfortable with our style of play more than anything. It’s one thing to memorize a play, it’s another thing to feel comfortable with the concepts of what you’re trying accomplish every time down the floor. Then there’s a lot of little nuances within that. I thought it took him a couple months, then he figured it out and he was off and running.”
Teammates can’t wait to see what Durant does next.
Iguodala appreciates greats like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady but will put Durant at the top.
“In my opinion KD is the most talented I’ve ever seen. There have been some other talented guys though, but he’s gotten the most out of his talent, just like TMac and Vince,” Iguodala said. “There are a lot of guys who are talented and they don’t even make it to the pros. I’m saying KD is most talented because he’s maximized his talent. He’s still got more room to go, so I believe he’s still grinding to get there.”
From Day One, Durant showed he’s a difference-maker.
“There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about,” he said, “and I’m just trying to take it all in and get better.”