Kevin Durant's ultimate goal of winning an NBA title has seemingly become more difficult after losing his right-hand man Russell Westbrook for the first four to six weeks of the season. But despite the setback, Durant has made it clear: The ultimate goal still is to win it all.
In an interview that aired on SportsCenter Wednesday, Durant expressed how greatly Westbrook will be missed by the Thunder while he recovers from his surgery, and he also touched on the whole coming in second throughout his entire NBA career thing.
Durant on Westbrook:
“We’re going to miss Russ, no doubt. We’ve seen that, especially in the playoffs. So we’re going to miss him. But guys gotta step up. Everybody’s worked hard on their games this summer and we’ve got to step up. I know I’ve got to step up a lot. I’ve got to come with it. I’ve got to make sure my teammates are ready.”
Durant on being second best:
So many people say it’s cool to be in the top three, or the top two. It’s cool that you’re considered the second best player. But I don’t care. I just want to be the best. That’s every player’s mindset and it’s definitely mine.
As stated earlier, the absence of Westbrook at the start of the season may hinder Durant's goal of attaining the ultimate prize. But this is not the first time Durant has had to deal with the loss of a valued teammate.
The infamous James Harden trade last October that sent shock waves throughout the NBA tested Durant and the Thunder. And despite losing their reigning Sixth Man of the Year, the Thunder went on to win 60 games in the regular season and attained the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
But this year seems different. After all, the Thunder showed last season they were legitimate title contenders in the absence of Harden, but once they lost Westbrook in the playoffs, they seemed to lack an offensive identity, and it hindered them from returning to the NBA Finals.
Now let's remember Westbrook is only expected to miss the first six weeks of the season at most, but as we saw with Derrick Rose last year, timetables for a player's expected return aren't always the most accurate. It really depends on the rehabilitation of the injury and getting the player confident enough to play at full speed.
While the Thunder await the return of Westbrook, much of the offensive load will be placed upon the shoulders of Durant, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Durant said he is tired of being labeled as "second best" in the league, and he now has the opportunity to rid himself of that label.
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More importantly, Durant gets the opportunity to showcase his leadership skills. After all, the development of players around him will be the catalyst to a successful start in the absence of Westbrook.
To put it simply, it is Durant's time to take his leadership role to a whole new level and make his teammates around him become better players. The Thunder somewhat lacked contribution from players outside of Durant once Westbrook was knocked out of the playoffs, but with more time for preparation this preseason, players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III have an opportunity to develop in time for the regular season.
The Thunder's expectations have not changed since news broke of Westbrook missing the start of the season. Durant has made that clear.
"There are only three things I really want,” said Durant. “First is a title, then Finals MVP and MVP. And if I don’t get it, like I keep saying, I’m going to die trying."
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