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Originally published July 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 13, 2007 at 12:07 PM

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Steve Kelley

Durant, welcome to the League

First minutes. First quarter. First shot. First game of his professional career. All eyes in the surprisingly full gym are on Sonics rookie...

Seattle Times staff columnist

LAS VEGAS — First minutes. First quarter. First shot. First game of his professional career.

All eyes in the surprisingly full gym are on Sonics rookie Kevin Durant as he makes one of those quick, dervish spin moves that almost pulls people out of their seats.

In the air, at the rim, he switches the ball to his left hand. But by this time, the Mavericks' DeSagana Diop is anticipating the move and crossing from the weak side to meet him.

And just after the basketball softly leaves Durant's hand, Diop swats it from here to Henderson.

"Everybody gets their shot blocked. This is the NBA," Durant said after his debut. "I can't get down on myself just because he blocked my shot. I got to keep going. It was a great block. I thought I was clear for the layup, but he came over and blocked it."

This first game was meaningful only because it was the initial tiny step in what certainly will be a long and lauded NBA career. It was meaningful only because every first in Durant's rookie season should be remembered.

Durant put a buzz in the building. He made just another Friday afternoon feel more important than it really was. People came to Cox Pavilion to see one of the most unique players to ever play the game.

"I've never seen him before," Trail Blazers assistant coach Dean Demopoulos said, watching from the first row.

The league hasn't seen anything like 6-foot-9 Kevin Durant. A player who can dominate the game as a small forward. A point center, or power point guard — make up any name for his position — who will create matchup nightmares for coaches for the next couple of decades.

He isn't just a superstar, he's a curiosity. Nobody has come into the game with quite the same height, length and skill set. He's the basketball equivalent of a .350 hitter with a 100-mile-an-hour fastball.

So with temperatures rising above 110 degrees, some 3,000 NBA general managers, coaches, assistant coaches, scouts and fans made the journey across the desert to see just how good he is.

"His versatility is unbelievable," said new Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo, who watched from a seat 10 rows behind the Seattle bench. "You can put him down on the blocks. You can throw the ball ahead to him on the break. He makes three-point shots. He gets to the free-throw line. I like that a lot."

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Durant didn't give the crowd the complete package in his debut. It's much too early to expect that.

But he gave it some glittering snapshots.

A post move early in the third quarter, where he took a bump, then dropped a delicate jump hook over Reyshawn Terry.

A spin on the baseline, ducking under Maurice Ager, then feathering a teardrop from 5 feet off the right blocks.

And his first three-pointer, almost three minutes into the second half.

For the record, Durant played 30 minutes in Seattle's 77-66 loss to Dallas in the NBA Summer League. He missed his first five shots and finished 5 for 17 from the field, but still had a game-high 18 points.

"It was a good first step," Carlesimo said. "This was just starting the process, and it's a real long process."

Afterward, as the first postgame gaggle of cameras and microphones crowded around him, Durant said he would most remember the case of nerves he felt in the days leading up to this game.

"It was tough," he said. "I started off slow, but my teammates helped pick me up a little bit, got me the ball in good positions, and I was able to score a little bit.

"I was glad to get back out on the court and under the whistle. It was fun. I had good shots early, but they weren't falling. In this game you can't make every shot, but I just wanted to keep being aggressive, and the second half it started to come on."

Durant needs more pieces around him than the Sonics can muster in the summer. Their point guards, Zabian Dowdell and Brandon Heath, aren't NBA players, and as good as Durant is, he needs a point guard's distributive help.

"What I saw that I liked the most was stuff with his teammates," Carlesimo said. "If somebody missed a shot or got a shot blocked, he went over and patted the guy. His interaction with his teammates is unbelievable for a guy who has achieved what he's achieved already. I just liked some of the little team dynamics that I saw."

On one play, Durant pump-faked Ager into the air, and his eyes lit up like street lamps before Ager hammered him and sent him to the line. Later, he cranked his arm in preparation for a house-rattling dunk, but Diop fouled him, briefly spoiling the party.

"I did OK," Durant said. "I could have shot the ball better. I think I played the post pretty well today. I think I played defense OK. All together, I think it was a good day."

It was a day for the imagination. A day to conjure ideas of what Kevin Durant might do when he grows up, when the education is complete and all the other pieces are there and the NBA game feels as easy to him as any other hot summer day on the playground.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Local connections
Keeping up with local players in the NBA's summer leagues:
Player, team School(s) Comment
Aaron Brooks, Houston Franklin HS Hasn't played yet.
Kevin Burleson, Charlotte O'Dea HS Hasn't played yet.
Will Conroy, Clippers Garfield HS, UW Hasn't played yet.
Spencer Hawes, Sacramento Seattle Prep, UW Hasn't played yet.
Bobby Jones, Philadelphia UW 11 pts., 5 rebs. on Friday.
Adam Morrison, Charlotte Gonzaga Hasn't played yet.
Nate Robinson, New York Rainier Beach HS, UW Hasn't played yet.
Tre Simmons, New York Garfield HS, UW Hasn't played yet.
Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Kentwood HS, E. Wash. Hasn't played yet.
Martell Webster, Portland Seattle Prep 18 pts., 8 rebs. on Friday.
Marcus Williams, San Antonio Roosevelt HS 2 pts., 1 reb. on Friday.

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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