Thunder’s Durant leads generational shift in NBA talent

Reuters, TORONTO

Sun, May 22, 2011 - Page 19

Kevin Durant has managed to dodge the growing pains often required for success in the NBA and now the Oklahoma City Thunder forward is among a handful of players headlining a generational shift in talent in the game.

There was plenty of talk about a changing of the guard when the playoffs started last month, and with four teams left, it appears 22-year-old Durant has a legitimate shot to fast-track his way to a title in only his fourth season.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs have combined to win the last four NBA championships, but each suffered unceremonious exits from the playoffs, opening the door for a new face of the NBA to grab the spotlight.

Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, Kevin Garnett of the Celtics and Tim Duncan of the Spurs all looked old and overmatched in their respective playoff series losses, prompting questions about where the franchises are headed from here.

Durant, widely considered the least pretentious big-name player in the game today, has won two scoring championships in his four seasons in the league and has shown an ability to step up his game at just the right time.

He will have to do just that in the Western Conference finals where his Thunder are tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven series against the Dallas Mavericks and head home for the next two games where Oklahoma City has gone 6-1 in the playoffs.

A series victory over the Mavericks would set up a showdown against either the Chicago Bulls, who boast 22-year-old league most valuable player Derrick Rose, or the Miami Heat, who have enjoyed a boost this year from 26-year-old LeBron James, the MVP of the prior two seasons.