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Durant expands his role

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / October 2, 2011

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There was a time not long ago when Kevin Durant thought about little other than basketball. His focus was so much on the game that he didn't allow for many diversions. Perhaps there would be a weekend of video games or horsing around with his brothers at his Oklahoma City home, but the day always included time at the gym.

But the NBA lockout has allowed Durant not only to play in a series of all-star games representing his native Washington D.C., but also to travel to Baton Rouge for his first movie role.

Durant also has had time to look back at the Thunder's bitter ending last season.

Being disposed of by eventual champion Dallas in the Western Conference finals was understandable, but the Thunder appeared to show cracks in chemistry when Russell Westbrook and Durant displayed confusion about leadership and offensive responsibilities. For the first time since the team moved to the Dust Belt in 2008, the Thunder felt the scrutiny reserved for elite teams, and the 23-year-old Durant was the primary target.

"Execution is the key, especially in the playoffs," said Durant, who averaged 28.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in 17 postseason games. "Execution, finishing plays, and always playing hard every possession.

"We learned a big lesson last year and I think that it will help us towards being better this year. It will be a natural progression.

"I think experience is the biggest teacher and I think if we continue to stay on that path that we told ourselves to always keep working and stay humble, the sky is the limit for us."

Durant said the Oklahoma City players met during the summer for an organized practice, and the next scheduled team workout is tomorrow.

The emergence of Westbrook as a scoring point guard appeared to cause a blurring of roles on the team. On several occasions during the playoffs, the former UCLA guard bypassed perhaps the higher-percentage pass for a long jumper or runner. Durant appeared to be open on a handful of those attempts, prompting coach Scott Brooks to bench Westbrook for the fourth quarter of Game 2 against Dallas.

Rumors of dissension emerged between Durant, the two-time All-Star, and Westbrook, who has had his share of brilliant scoring games.

"I think that was kind of overblown," Durant said. "But people don't realize [how tough the playoffs are] once you're there, and that was the first time there.

"It was kind of different for us as far as getting that far in the playoffs - we've never played that deep into the season - but I think we handled it well.

"We lost some games that we should have won but I think we handled it well. Guys didn't break down, even though the media was trying to break us up as a group, as far as Russell and what they were thinking about him. But he stayed strong and we supported him every time."

Thunder general manager Sam Presti helped Celtics president Danny Ainge pull off the most controversial trade of the season, moving Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston for Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins.

Green struggled with the Celtics. Krstic played solid in stretches but signed with CSKA Moscow shortly after the Celtics were eliminated from the postseason.

Robinson was little more than a cheerleader for Oklahoma City, while Perkins labored through the final three months of the season with the same knee injury that felled him prior to the trade. Perkins was hobbled but served as a spiritual leader for the Thunder, their lone player with a championship pedigree.

"He did a lot for us," Durant said. "Even though he wasn't 100 percent, he was out there every day. He was a true professional coming in every day in practice early.

"He demanded a lot of respect from guys, brought that attitude that we needed down low. He had to come in and adjust because it was a little different. With Boston and the veterans they had and with us as a young group, we kind of followed his lead and he made everything easy for us."

Should the lockout linger, Durant said, he is unsure whether he would play overseas, but his representatives would pursue opportunities. Until then, he is an actor and a basketball player. He plays himself in the movie "Switch," about a kid who swaps skills with a professional basketball player to help his high school team. The movie stars Brandon T. Jackson ("Tropic Thunder") and William Ragsdale ("CSI: Miami").

"I was skeptical about doing it, a little nervous about doing it, but I just said why not, read the script, and started shooting," said Durant. "I'm very excited and it's something new for me, stepping outside of the box for once. Doing a movie is something I never envisioned myself doing, but I wanted to see myself on the screen."

Adelman must lean on youth

Rick Adelman is an esteemed and respected NBA coach who couldn't get the Rockets among the Western Conference elite because of injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. His departure early in the summer was a mutual decision.

Just a few months after taking a deep breath and pondering his future, he accepted the coaching position with the Timberwolves, a team years away from making a title run.

It was 22 years ago when an unproven Adelman took over in midseason for Mike Schuler in Portland and went on to lead the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals appearances. He also led the Kings to five consecutive 50-win seasons.

He is one of the better coaches never to win an NBA title, so why he would potentially end his career trying to harness a bunch of young, raw upstarts in an organization run by a bizarre general manager in David Kahn?

"The more I thought about it, I knew I wanted to coach one more time," said Adelman. "I kept looking at this team and the challenge and I really enjoyed the last two years in Houston when we lost our superstars to injuries.

"We had a group of guys who worked so hard and developed roles on that team. You saw the growth in that group, and after two years it was a real pleasure coaching in that atmosphere.

"I thought it could be a good situation here with the youth they have, they talent they have."

Adelman inherits one of the league's more intriguing teams, one still reeling from Kurt Rambis's failed triangle offense experiment. The Timberwolves will return the league's leading rebounder, Kevin Love, along with talented but erratic Michael Beasley and versatile Anthony Randolph.

Minnesota also drafted Derrick Williams from Arizona and signed 2009 pick Ricky Rubio, the Spanish point guard with All-Star potential.

The Timberwolves have two players over 26 - Luke Ridnour and Brad Miller - and they are not expected to be major contributors.

Minnesota will take its share of poundings in the competitive Western Conference, but Kahn is rebuilding the franchise with young cornerstones.

While the triangle offense resulted in scoring, there was little continuity, and the Timberwolves were abysmal defensively, yielding a league-high 107.7 points per game. Adelman, always known as an offensive-minded coach, will have to instill a defensive philosophy or the Timberwolves simply will be an exciting lottery team.

"A lot of it's going to be the growth of the players you have," said Adelman, who couldn't mention players by name because of lockout rules. "There's no reason you can't [improve], and I believe that. There's no reason they shouldn't believe that. We have to push them out of their comfort zone if they are going to be better."

Older coaches taking over young teams have produced mixed results. Former Celtics coach Bill Fitch was 60 when he took over the downtrodden Clippers and actually led them to a playoff berth in 1997 before being fired after the 1998 season. Don Nelson guided Golden State to a 2007 first-round playoff upset of the Mavericks but he eventually soured on the younger players.

Delonte offers glimpse of life

Not only has mercurial Celtics guard Delonte West discovered Twitter, which is a must-read for NBA fans, but now he has acquired an offseason job at Regency Furniture Showrooms in his native Maryland. He has been tweeting pictures of himself in his work uniform.

West was bought out by the Timberwolves in August 2010 and played for the league minimum of $1.069 million for the Celtics last season. He has earned an estimated $14 million in the NBA since 2004, but his current financial status is unclear.

West is having fun with his new gig, tweeting things such as "Regency is a cool place to be. Now I'm chillin. It's almost 5." And "Just finished a big moving job," and, "Another on the job pic. This is the last one, don't wanna get fired."

While other NBA players have pursued business internships, it's not surprising that West would accept employment at a furniture store. Opportunities to play overseas were squelched by Maryland judges, who ruled that West can't leave the country because he remains on probation after his 2009 arrest on weapons charges.

Given that he was effective during an injury-plagued year, West would likely draw interest from the Celtics, especially under a reduced salary cap and given that the club has seven signed players. West played in just 24 games for Boston last season because of a broken right wrist and badly sprained ankle but he managed to average 10 points per game off the bench in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Nets nix new nicknames

The New Jersey Nets are moving to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season - giving the city its first pro team since the Dodgers left in the late '50s - but will keep the name Nets. The club considered other nicknames but decided to hold on to Nets, which has been attached to the club since its ABA days in New York. Rapper Jay-Z, a part-owner of the team, will open the team's venue, the Barclays Center, with a concert in September 2012.

Paul Pierce appeared in a Kansas University alumni game last Saturday that ended in a 111-111 tie on a 3-pointer canned by Mario Chalmers of the Heat ..... Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony told reporters in Philadelphia that he underwent knee and elbow surgery shortly after the Knicks were eliminated by the Celtics in the playoffs. Anthony is not the lone Knick recovering from injuries. Point guard Chauncey Billups said his right knee is close to 100 percent after his Game 1 injury against the Celtics, while Amar'e Stoudemire has spent most of the summer resting the sore back that hobbled him for the final three games of the Celtics' sweep ..... A free agent who could be on the Celtics' radar is former Wizard and Maverick Josh Howard, who is healthy after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in February 2010. Howard played in 18 games for the Wizards last season, averaging 8.4 points in 10 starts ..... One agent said he believes the NBA will not want to start the season after Christmas, as it did with the lockout in 1998-99. That season was pushed back to February and 50 games were squeezed into two months ..... Celtics second-round draft pick E'Twaun Moore has begun the exhibition season with Benetton Treviso, averaging 10.4 points in four games for the Italian team. Ex-UConn standout Jeff Adrien and ex-Celtic Brian Scalabrine are also on the roster.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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