Media days are seen as the unofficial start of the NBA season. They usually give way to training camp, which then gives way to the season. It's a way of allowing fans to get re-acclimated with their players through the guise of the media. The Oklahoma City Thunder, along with many other teams around the league, held their media days on Monday. On Tuesday, many teams will start training camp and media access will be limited to after-practice interviews and pre/post-game interviews.
Heading into media days, the themes that were most likely to get discussed were Kevin Durant's return from injury, Durant's impending free agency, and Billy Donovan's first training camp as head coach. While some of those topics were broached, the free agency topic was surprisingly not directly brought up. Here's a look at the 16 interviews from the players and Donovan.
On his transition to Oklahoma City: "I was living from hotel room to the office my first two months on the job. But I finally moved my family here."
On changing the way Durant and Russell Westbrook play together: "Those two guys have a tremendous relationship and I’ve had the chance to witness that up close and in person when they’ve been with each other. I think there’s a great mutual respect and care for one another. I think the one thing I’d do as a coach to try and help is to allow them to be who they are. Russell is a very, very competitive, attacking, aggressive point guard and I think that’s what makes him special, what makes him great. So I don’t think you want to take that away from him and change who he is."
On the people of Oklahoma City: "They've been great to my family. Whether it's helping us find a school or helping find a place for my kids to take a physical, they have been great."
As expected, Donovan did not divulge any information in regards to offensive and defensive schemes he will be implementing.
On trusting his foot after recovering from a third surgery: "You never want to live in fear. I love the game so much, but if anything were to happen again, I’d just have to live with it. I think if I’d have went out there and with doubt in my mind, something would’ve happened. I was always taught if I’m on the court, I’m all right."
On the Thunder's place in the league after the injuries and not making it to the playoffs: "All the radars, projections, comparisons. It really don't matter to me. That's not my job. My job is to go out there and work as hard as I can every single day and try to be the best leader and teammate I can be."
Newsflash: Kevin Durant did watch the playoffs last season. Before the playoffs started, with the Thunder being eliminated, he was asked if he was going to watch the playoffs, to which he replied that he wasn't. But being the basketball junkie that he is, he admitted that he did lie a bit and did watch the playoffs. But he added, "It sucked. I hated seeing someone else win."
The only free agency question asked to Durant was in regards to how his decision may affect some of the local fans' feelings towards him: "That's something I can't control. I'm not one of those guys that's looking for praise or going to let it bother me. I never looked at stuff like that. I just enjoy playing the game of basketball."
On if there was a specific moment where he felt like he was back: "I never thought I left. I never thought I went anywhere. Just had a little small break."
On whether he learned any Spanish while vacationing in Spain: "I think I pick up more words in Spanish from watching Narcos (a new show on Netflix).
On attending Westbrook's wedding and introspecting on their relationship: "It was eye-opening. It showed me that we are getting older and things are changing. But more importantly, I was just happy for Russell and his bride, Nina. I think it'll really be a shock when they start having kids."
On his relationship with Donovan: "It's been fun. I enjoy him. A great basketball mind, but more so, a better person. We've hit it off. I'm just excited to play for him."
On Billy Donovan: "Him coming in and trying to create a relationship with all of the guys is important."
On whether he was surprised about Durant's progression from surgeries to where he is now: "Not at all. I've seen him during the summer. Just seeing him progress every week. Just trying to get back to his normal self."
On whether he and Durant can "meld" back to together after not sharing the court for much time in the past season: "We’ve been playing together for eight years. It’s not rocket science. My job is to find a way to help us win. Kevin, obviously him being on the floor makes it easier for myself, and everybody else on the floor. It’s something we’re used to doing. We’ve been playing with each other a very long time and we know how to get each other back going, we know how to find our rhythm."
On individual goals: "Just come back and find a way to help us win a championship."
On what he learned from the turbulent season last year: "With the injuries and different things that happened last year, we were able to find out and see what guys are made of. A lot of guys stepped up. With trades and all the stuff that happened to us, we were able to see different guys step up and play better. I think that'll help us when everybody gets back."
On whether he reflected on last season's individual accomplishments: "I reflected a little bit, but I always reflect just to see in what ways I can get better. And I was definitely able to reflect on different things I was able to do."
On finally having a fully healthy roster: "It's definitely a relief to get everybody at full strength, especially at the beginning of training camp. Just trying to get everybody healthy. It's something that you can't take for granted. We got a whole 82 game season. I'm just happy to get back and get everybody going."
On what the NBA Africa game meant to him: "I think it was a great event for Africa and also for the African people who love basketball. And since I come from Africa, it made me proud to have the first African game out there. And too, when I think about young men, it'll help them to keep believing. I remember when I started playing basketball, I didn't think one day we would have a game in Africa."
On his summer: "I've just been working hard. I always try to work differently in what I've been doing the last 5 years. Try to change different thing. Passing my time working on fundamentals, passing the ball."
On his knee: "I'm getting better. I'm ready to start training camp tomorrow."
On Donovan: "As a person, I had the opportunity to talk to him over the summer. He's a good guy and he's going to help us to get better. He's excited to be here and we're going to have fun together."
On helping Enes Kanter on defense: "We've been spending a lot of time working together. Me and Coach (Anthony) Grant. He's been teaching him a lot. When I see something he's not doing right, I try to help him. But, I think he's getting better. Our team has always had a defensive mentality."
On Steven Adams: "I really enjoy spending time with Steve. He's a very unique guy, different than anybody I've played with."
On Donovan: "He seems great. He's got a pretty good pulse of what's going on with the team and what's happened in the past. I'm excited to get started and see what's new."
On Donovan's combination of new and old: "He's got a lot of energy. I can sense that already. He's high energy, but he's very experienced. Our organization does a good job of providing everything we need, they put in a lot of work on this coaching change."
On the hardships from last season: "It was a very unique situation. I've never been a part of team that had this many injuries."
On being a player-coach type figure: "I still feel like I can play. I'm still one of the players. But, of course, I always try to help when I can. I've taken on that role more and more. But the most important thing is to lead by example. You can't fool anybody when you work so many days together."
On the season ending earlier than usual: "The extra month was a bit of a bummer. There seems to be a different energy coming into this season. Coming back at full strengths, it's very exciting."
On Durant during his rehab and recovery: "It was great. Just seeing him back on the court. He was happy to just be playing basketball. Obviously, he looked the same. I think we're all happy to see him back on the court."
On Donovan: "Well, obviously he's a winner. He won a lot of games at Florida, two national championships. Just from everything I've been hearing, he's an offensive genius. We can look forward to what he has planned for us. I'm excited. He's coached a lot of pros and put a lot of guys in position to succeed. Just seeing the movement in his scheme at Florida."
On adjusting to a new coach: "Everybody buying in. Everybody has the same goal. That's all we care about right now."
On possibly starting: "It's not on my mind. Whatever the team needs me to do, I'll do. I've come off the bench. I've started. Whatever the team needs, I'm all for it."
NBA, be warned: Morrow worked on trying to perfect his quick release shot. Worked on being more consistent in his shooting.
On stability of being in one place: "My family is glad to be in one place for more than one year. For me, it's great. Just being here. Being part of the city, of the community."
On the possibility of being even more wide open: "Definitely. Even in pick-up, him (Durant), Russell, Dion, DJ, Cameron, all those guys that draw attention. I see how getting open and getting in rhythm and making sure I find my spots, that'll definitely help me and help the team."
Early impressions on Cameron Payne: "He's good. He's really good. I won't tell him that to his face yet, but I like him."
On assistant coach Monty Williams: "He's a basketball junkie. We had a unique relationship in New Orleans. We figured each other out and it was a good relationship. It brought me closer to more off the court things like family. On the court, he helped me defensively."
On his role: "Give Kevin and Russell room to operate. Makes shots. Be a leader. I think that's my role."
On Donovan: "He recruited me in college. He offered my sister a candy bar when she was younger. We had to pay a quarter not to break NCAA rules. He's been watching, seeing how guys play. At this point, he's just been studying us."
Early impressions of Russell Westbrook as an opponent and teammate: "He's probably one of those guys were watching from a distance and then being in the locker room with him where I would say I was wrong about him. You see the "Angry" Russell, but in the locker room, he's a totally different guy, extremely well-spoken, nice, and funny."
On his relationship with Enes Kanter: "We were close and when we were traded together it brought us even closer. He's just a guy that is so young and so talented. Sam (Presti) knew what he was doing when he brought him in. He'll be a guy that will mature immensely in the next year or two. One of the knocks on Enes has been on defense, but I think he's a guy, who in the right system can be so effective. I think his skillset matches up so well with other stars on this team. The way he gets rebounds around the hoop, the way he bulldozes guys out the way, and follows up Russell when he's going to the rim. I think his offense matches up so well. When he plays well offensively, he plays better defensively."
On the competition between himself, Cameron Payne, and to a lesser extent, Russell Westbrook: "I'm not worried anything like that. Coach is going to play who he wants to play. At the end of the day, I'm just going to do what I have to do as a player to help this team, whatever my role is."
On playing with Durant (who was his teammate at Texas): "I never thought I would play with him. When I got traded here last season, he was hurt the whole time. So this season will be my first time playing with him. So it's going to be fun, exciting. Just to see him back healthy is just a blessing."
On whether Durant has brought up the topic of free agency to him: "Not at all. I don't even think KD is thinking about free agency right now. I think we're all just focused on having a great training camp."
On Donovan: "We talked. We've had great conversations. Just getting to know one another. Just talking. Talking about the season. Big expectations for the team. Once I got to know him, I knew he was a great person, down to earth, very understanding. A guy you can easily approach."
On starting: "At this point, it doesn't even matter. I've got to do whatever it takes to get this team wins. I've got to do what's best for the team. I've got to play hard, work hard, and let the coaches take care of that."
On the number change to number 3: "I had to. I had to. I didn't feel right with number 23."
On what he had to work on per Thunder GM Sam Presti: "I already knew what it was that I had to work on. And I've been working on it."
On Durant's mood during rehab: "Very determined. You could see him focused. You could see him every day. Granted, summers are for development and getting healthy, but you could see his commitment. You could see his wantingness to get back on the court. I wasn't too worried about asking him how he was doing, but I could see the type of work he was putting in to get back healthy."
On the Thunder's approach to practice: "Everything we do here is competitive. It's game-like. It's focus-oriented."
On Donovan: "I love the guy. I think he's exactly what we need. A guy with his energy. His mindset. He's a guy that is ready to prove himself. He wants to win. He wants us to be successful. He's just determined."
On his role with a fully healthy roster: "The idea of having a set role is never the case. Circumstances like injuries, trades, whatever. Keeping that in mind, just coming into the year, guys know what their roles are. The hardest part is doing and fulfilling your role to the best of your ability."
On the three-day moratorium after signing the offer sheet with Portland: "It was definitely tough, because I wanted to be here. It was tough for me. It was difficult. I never experienced anything like that before. But in the end, it worked out. I'm really happy to here."
Thoughts on Donovan: "I met him before I signed the contract. He's an amazing guy. I'm not even talking about coaching. He's just a really good guy. My first impression was I was so excited to work with him, because I think he's going to help me a lot on both ends."
On his offseason work: "My focus was on defense and losing weight. Being in better shape for this upcoming season."
On his relationship with Russell Westbrook: "It's still the same. With him, it's just "Hustle" Westbrook. That's my nickname for him. He's an amazing guy. He helped me a lot last season with everything, on the court, off the court. So, I'm really excited to play with him again."
On getting to play with Kevin Durant: "I've played with him and I've played against. I would hate to play against him. He's given me so much confidence. He's a really good leader. He would tell me that he would have my back."
On the possibility of starting: "It's the coach's decision. I don't really worry about who's going to start, who's going to come off the bench. My main focus is when I'm on the court. Whether I play 48 minutes or 1 minute, just when I step on that court, I just try to do my best."
On any advice for Durant as he approaches free agency: "That's his business. I don't really want to get in his business."
On how short he felt meeting the tallest man (Sultan Kosen who stands 8'3"): "Too short. I understand how people feel around me now. He was huge. Sometimes I feel bad for him, because he can't really walk straight. He told me that he's never been to an NBA, so I have to get it for him."
On the possibility of staying as the starting two guard: "If that's what the coaches think, if it's best for team, then that's what it's going to be. I'm going to do my best either way, whether I'm starting or not. Go out there and give me all."
On what he worked on in the offseason: "All my offense. Creating my shot. Creating opportunities for myself. As well as maintaining my focus on my shot. Different system coming in, so I've been learning that."
On whether the coaching change caused him some concern: "I don't think so. I think he's going to kind of keep the same system. He's also a defensive minded coach and it's a big part of his success."
On his unkempt look: "I'm keeping the long hair. I'm keeping everything. I'm just letting myself go (laughs)"
On the combination of himself and Kanter: "I think we complement each other. I think we do a good job just within the system to work together. We have the same mindset. He's definitely a skilled big. He's a good guy, a good dude."
On what he worked on in the summer: "Free throws (laughs). Pretty much all areas of the game, still picking up on fundamentals and what not. Trying to become a full player. We have a new coach and I have to be ready to play whatever role."
On his trip to Seattle to spend time with Nick Collison: "Bro time. He's got a good set-up out there. We had some good work-outs. Some good scrimmages. Lovely little place in Seattle."
On what he learned from the difficult season last year: "I learned just how together we actually are. The perseverance we showed was something I was really proud of. Because, obviously, we had a really bumpy ride last year, we kept the same goals. We just all stuck together."
On his tattoos: "I'm just sticking to one side (right arm) for right now. It represents my family's heritage. It's really common in New Zealand to get a sleeve to represent your family heritage."
On his offseason workouts: "I've been up here (in OKC) this whole summer. Just working out, getting in shape, losing weight. Just feeling good. I'm really excited for the season. Improving my overall fitness. Getting my body in the right form that I need to help the team."
On health: "First time I've been healthy in a couple years. This is the best I've felt in a couple years. I've gotten in shape. It's the first time this whole team has been healthy."
On the logjam in the front court: "It's for the coaches to decide and for us big men to earn our spots. Everybody is a little different, everybody brings something different to the table. I doesn't matter to me. I just want to win."
On being a playmaking 4: "We'll see. Coaches are beginning to trust me more and more with my ball handling capabilities. Getting the rebound, one or two dribbles and kicking it to Kevin or Russell. Or taking it all the way. We'll see. I'm going to have fun with it."
On Donovan: "He's been welcoming. He's taught me the little things about the NBA from the jump. He's just been coaching me up like I've been his player his whole life. He's been a real good guy. Real good coach. Looking at the foul count. Looking at the shot clock. Trying to get two shots in if there is 48 seconds left in the quarter."
On his lack of attention for being a lottery pick: "I'm definitely flying under the radar. The fact that I didn't get to play summer league is most of the reason. It's cool. I like the fact I'm flying under the radar. It'll help me out a bit."
On his impression of Westbrook: "Personally, I thought he was a more serious guy. Once I got to know him, he's a character, very goofy. He's like Kevin, very hard working. He's been taking me under his wing and even gave me a nickname. His nickname for me is "Smooth". I don't know how he came up with it."
On his goals during his rookie season: "Come in and learn. Come in and compete every day. Just try to get better as a player. Better as an individual."
On his impression of Oklahoma City: "Oklahoma is a very small city, but has some great people. It has a lot of fun things to do. It's a great city. I'm ready to play in the arena. I keep hearing about the arena. About how loud it is."
On describing his game: "I'm somebody that takes pride in doing the dirty work. Blue collar. I want to be able to be the guy that can knock down open shots and then guard whoever you put in front of me. I'm a very versatile defender. I take pride in being a defender. I'll do whatever I can to help us win."
On his pectoral injury: "It was an incident in the weight room. Just a freak accident. Nothing that could have been predicted or prevented. I had surgery on it. Went through the recovery process. Had great help from the trainers. I'm 100% ready to go now. All clear."
Early impressions on Donovan: "I'm very impressed with him. He's a guy who has a wealth of experience and knowledge at the college level. That experience and success will translate really well here. Everyone is really excited to work with him."
On any advice he would give another collegian who may be thinking about taking his path to the NBA (back deal first rounder who "redshirted" a year in the D-League, before finally signing his guaranteed NBA contract): "My biggest thing was that it's easy to get blinded by the promise of money right away. Obviously for any kid coming in my age, when you are presented with that kind of opportunity, it's tempting. My advice would be make the decision that is best for you. Take the path less traveled."
On guarding Durant in practice: "Absolutely looking forward to the challenge. My competitive nature makes me really excited about that. A chance to sharpen your skills against arguably the best scorer in the entire world, that's exciting. I love the challenge. There's nobody else I would rather learn how to guard than him. Every night I can step on the court and know I've already guarded somebody like Kevin. I mean, it only gets easier from there."
On whether there was a possibility that he would eschew his contract for a second season and sign again with the D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue: "It was something we were going to evaluate once the first year was over. There was never any sort of assumed progression forward. I just didn't really think about it that much. I just really wanted to be so good that it would make it impossible not to want to sign me."
The themes of the day remained pretty consistent. They were all excited to be coached by Billy Donovan. They were all excited to be healthy. And they were all excited to get the season started. They say that every journey begins with the first step. Well, this was the first step for the Thunder's 2015-2016 campaign.