Kevin Durant gets new tutor, new practice partner
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
Two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant has a new part-time tutor and a new defender to challenge him every day at practice.
Durant was introduced Wednesday to Lazar Hayward, who came over in a trade the previous night with Minnesota, then spent time after the workout getting tips from former Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis.
Hayward got instructions from coach Scott Brooks that he'd be guarding Durant most days in practice and the second-year forward out of Marquette said he embraced the role immediately.
''During practice, I told him I would be going up against him all the time,'' Hayward said. ''I was like, `I'm going to push you, I'm going to fight you, I'm going to try and make you mad,' but at the end of the day it'll help him because when those guys guard him, they're not going to let him do whatever he wants.
''It wouldn't be fair to him if I didn't bring my best every night in guarding him in practice. At the end of the day, it's good for both of us.''
Hayward was part of a Tuesday night trade that sent a 2012 second-round pick, a conditional 2013 second-round pick and guard Robert Vaden to the Timberwolves. He was surprised when he saw Rambis, his former coach, in his hotel Wednesday morning.
''Kurt has a lot of knowledge. He's been around some of the greatest players ever in the history of the game, Magic (Johnson) and Kobe (Bryant),'' Brooks said. ''I picked his brain for the last five or six days and our coaches have also. With Kevin, I wanted him just to talk a little bit about what Kobe brought and all the great players that he has been around.''
Rambis, who is a friend of Brooks, also spent at least 10 minutes after reporters were allowed into the end of practice working with Durant at the high post, demonstrating ways to seal off defenders and get the ball, and ways to maneuver around for an open shot. Despite his status as the league's top scorer, Durant has repeatedly said the he wants to improve his post-up game and become more than a jump shooter.
''Definitely he came back stronger, he's added a little bit of muscle to his frame. His post-up game, we're going to continue to build on that,'' Brooks said. ''We've made steps throughout the last three or four years with that. I think this year you'll see another step.''
Brooks said he expects Durant, who mostly played shooting guard when he got into the league, to play some at the power forward spot this season. But Brooks believes the superstar can play at just about any position, with the rare combination of his nearly 7-foot frame and solid ball handling.
''I'm just trying to work on my post game. I think that me being more patient down there and being stronger getting the ball has improved a lot,'' Durant said.
''I've got to keep working, I've got to keep getting stronger and my teammates challenge me every day in practice. I know with them on my back every single day, I can get better.''
And now, he'll have someone new to challenge him.
Hayward may have trouble cracking a rotation that featured Durant and recently re-signed 3-point specialist Daequan Cook last season but he'll have opportunities to prove himself worthy while going against an All-Star on a regular basis.
''He's going to have to guard a pretty good player every day in practice, so it's going to get his defense better,'' Brooks said. ''He's going to be guarding Kevin most times. ... He's going to bring another dimension to our team. I don't know how many minutes he's going to get. Like I told him, if he doesn't work hard and doesn't bring the effort every day, he has no shot at playing. He understands that.''
Hayward said he worked out some with Durant and James Harden in California during the offseason and chatted then that there could ''possibly be a chance for me to come here.''
Now, he can get far more familiar with his new teammates.
''I've always been a guy that can do a bunch of different things. That's what I pride myself at,'' Hayward said. ''Really, what you'll get from me is I'll play with my heart, I'm very passionate, I'll always play hard and I'm a team-first guy.''