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Posted at 10:14 AM ET, 02/21/2011

On Kobe Bryant's night, Kevin Durant proves to be a star among stars

By Michael Lee

It's all yours when I'm gone. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)


Kevin Durant maintains his humility, but he is starting to abandon that aw-shucks, happy-to-be-here stance when he is surrounded by the league's best players. He used to say that he wasn't in the same class as superstars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But if he hadn't already proven it when he led the league in scoring last season, or when he led Team USA to a gold medal in Turkey, Durant let it be known on Sunday at Staples Center that he is truly a star among stars.

Bryant wasn't going to let anyone get the most valuable player award in his last All-Star Game in front his home fans in Los Angeles. That didn't stop Durant from coming close to taking it from him.

Bryant led all scorers with 37 points, coming with five of Wilt Chamberlain's all-star scoring record, but he let it be known how much Durant has truly arrived when he repeatedly looked for the fourth-year Oklahoma City Thunder forward in the fourth quarter. Durant, the District native and Montrose Christian alum, kept earning his trust as he used that text-book, confection-sweet release to knock down shots.

"Shots felt good," Durant said after scoring 34 points, with seven coming in the final two minutes, as he helped the Western Conference fend off a late charge by James and Amar'e Stoudemire to win 148-143. James had just the second-all-star triple double with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, and Bryant had his first all-star double-double with 14 rebounds. But Durant made the shots that mattered most.

"It was a good game in the fourth quarter, so as a player, a competitive player, that's something I enjoy being in," Durant said. "It was like playing in the playground. It was like a pick-up game almost. This was a great experience for me. Very blessed to be in this situation, so I can't take anything for granted."


I'm not coming, because I'm already here. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Durant has always been lethal, but he doesn't seem to be content. He should finish the season as the fourth player to win back-to-back scoring titles -- joining Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson -- since Michael Jordan finished playing for the Chicago Bulls in 1998. The more his career ascends, the more Durant is accepting the responsibilities that come with it.

He admitted that he didn't feel like he completely belonged last season in Dallas, but those feelings were tossed aside once the fans decided select him as a starter.

"I felt a lot more comfortable," said Durant, who scored 15 points in his all-star debut. "I think me being a starter helped me out a little bit and also having my teammate [Russell Westbrook] there. Last year, I was a little nervous just being around the guys. But this year, I feel like I belonged. My teammates made me feel so comfortable just being myself and I was able to be relaxed out there and play my game. The other guys were pushing for me to go out and have fun and take the shots I normally take and just be aggressive. So, it was a great experience."

The got-next moment of the All-Star Game came near the end of the second period, when Bryant drove baseline, pumped and did a reverse slam. New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul immediately stole the ball from Chris Bosh, then tossed a lob Durant who avoided Dwight Howard to dunk with two hands.

"I've had my time," Bryant said. "It's [Blake Griffin's] time now, and it's these younger players, the Durants and so forth, to step forward and carry the league. I'm on my way out. So it's important for them to carry the league."

Durant joked with Bryant before the game, calling him "Old Fella," but was excited to hear Bryant saying that it was time for Durant and other young players to serve as ambassadors for the league. "He's been here a long time, but he's still playing like he's 22 years old," Durant said of Bryant. "You know, as a player, you only hope and pray for a career like he's had; a lot of championships, a lot of scoring titles.

"It was an honor to play alongside a guy like that," he said. "So if he passes the torch on to me, I guess I know what to do with it."

By Michael Lee  | February 21, 2011; 10:14 AM ET
 
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Comments

SI did a feature on the worst FA signings of the year: our own Brendan Haywood was among them, of course. Travis Outlaw to NJ was another notable dog, along with Ainge's panicky purchase of Jermaine O'Neal for Boston, and Josh Childress to Phoenix, where he's played in just one of the last 8 games. Remember the folks here who wanted the Wiz to sign Josh?

Also Al Harrington to Denver. The Nuggs have apparently been trying to find a sucker to take Big Outside-Shooting Al in any deal for Carmelo -- without success.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 21, 2011 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Kenny: He [Durant] will be the best player in the league in 2 years.

Chuck: He's going to have Lebron killed?

Posted by: divi3 | February 21, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

^^

That was rather funny

Posted by: gmac78 | February 21, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Remember the folks here who wanted the Wiz to sign Josh?

I don't remember anyone arguing that he was worth 5 years, $33 million.

Posted by: djnnnou | February 21, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

"I don't remember anyone arguing that he was worth 5 years, $33 million.Posted by: djnnnou"

No, that was waaayy excessive. Folks here probably wanted to sign him for less money.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 21, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

draftexpress now has Valanciunas as the 3rd overall pick...apparently based on finding a copy of his legendary battles with Ene Kanter- the 19yr old Turk no one has seen play.

Wow, this is a bad draft. At least at the top anyway. Jonas and Kanter are complete shots in the dark who come ready made with the "could take a few years to adjust" caveat.

On the other hand, they are legit 6'11" bigs as opposed to whatever Sullinger comes in at. what to do, what to do...

Posted by: divi3 | February 21, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind seeing the Wizards acquire a late 1st round pick in order to draft Lucas Nogueira if he decides to go the Tiago Splitter route and stay in Europe for several years. I don't think that's likely to happen if the team has to spend $3 million on buying a pick, though.

Posted by: djnnnou | February 21, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

"I don't remember anyone arguing that he was worth 5 years, $33 million."

Posted by: djnnnou | February 21, 2011 11:49 AM

But they were arguing that he could be a difference maker at starter in the SF slot post Caron, something that's hard to imagine given his apparent inability to get off the bench for a Suns team struggling to get/stay above .500 and desperately trying to claw its way into the last playoff spot.

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 21, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

"draftexpress now has Valanciunas as the 3rd overall pick...apparently based on finding a copy of his legendary battles with Ene Kanter- the 19yr old Turk no one has seen play."

Yes, you get the feeling they're looking for somebody to emerge from the pack and no one is cooperating. I certainly would hesitate to draft a European big man in the top five, even though Pau Gasol went there.

I do think that if the four Kentucky draftees from last year had stayed, the Wildcats might have had a legit shot at going undefeated, even without Terrence Jones.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 21, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

OK, this might be the craziest scenario yet:

"The Knicks have made what was described as their final trade proposal for Carmelo Anthony Sunday...The Knicks would send three starters — Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Raymond Felton — to Denver for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter, sources said Sunday. The Nuggets would get the Knicks’ first-round pick in 2014, while Minnesota would get Eddy Curry’s expiring contract and Anthony Randolph from New York. Curry would then be waived, and the Knicks would send as much as $3 million to Minnesota to pay his freight. The Wolves also would send Corey Brewer to Denver in the proposed deal."

Posted by: Samson151 | February 21, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

The virtual GMs here really annoy me. You couldn't get Childress for under that price. That was the price. The Suns paid it and due to better judgement Ernie passed. We knew Haywood would get one more big contract before he was done in the league and rather than get NOTHING for him, we let that become Dallas's problem.

Posted by: jon_quest | February 21, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't remember anyone arguing that he was worth 5 years, $33 million.

But they were arguing that he could be a difference maker at starter in the SF slot... Posted by: kalo_rama

No, Childress was one of the favorites to fill an obvious need at SF. I don't recall anyone calling him a difference maker. That sounds more like the talk surrounding Outlaw and Howard.

Posted by: djnnnou | February 21, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm... Josh Howard was definitely the hot topic on WI at the time, but there was the following exchange around the time Childress signed with Phoenix:

Mike Lee: "...Childress had drawn interest from at least eight other teams. Childress reportedly will agree to a five-year, $34-million contract that wasn't out of the Wizards' price range. But the Suns are positioned to win sooner than Washington,

July 12: "I've told all of you [Grunfeld] is a dunce and a dumb azz,he ain't got a clue on how to build a team, Childress was there for the taking but EG let him get away, same with Outlaw not that any of these guy's would want to play for Flip, Grunfeld got some of you fooled but like i said a year ago he's one of the dumbest GM's in the league.Posted by: dargregmag"

July 12: "They offered Childress a deal and he said no. Not sure what you want them to do at that point, because the alternative is to overpay. And then have guys like you complain a couple of years from now about how his salary is too big for his production.Posted by: ts35"

Posted by: Samson151 | February 21, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Random question to any and all:

If you could re-do the 2008 draft would you still opt for McGee, or maybe go, Hickson, DeAndre Jordan, Ibaka, Courtney Lee (or other) instead?

Posted by: JPRS | February 21, 2011 10:06 PM | Report abuse

"I don't recall anyone calling him a difference maker. That sounds more like the talk surrounding Outlaw and Howard."

Posted by: djnnnou | February 21, 2011 7:03 PM

Well, if you don't recall it I guess that means it didn't happen, right? Try not to cut yourself splitting those hairs.

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 21, 2011 11:50 PM | Report abuse

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