Durant, Green ol' guys now

When Thunder general manager Sam Presti traded Damien Wilkins to Minnesota as part of the Etan Thomas deal in late July, it left Nick Collison as the only player remaining from the roster he inherited in 2007.

At the time, that small detail was worth noting because it signaled how quickly Presti has put his stamp on the franchise in his efforts to rebuild the Thunder into a perennial winner.

But now that we sit two days away from the preseason opener - and three weeks away from the regular season - the real significance of that deal has taken shape with the roster now set.

Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are now the team's unquestioned leaders. They trail only Collison as the franchise's most tenured players - at the tender age of 21 and 23, respectively.

"I feel old," joked Green, 23, at media day while peering out his teammates, nearly half of them younger than he is.

A blockbuster addition would have taken some pressure off of Durant and Green. But by refusing to break the bank on a big-name free agent, Presti is hastening their learning curves yet again this season and banking on them now more than ever.

"There's two schools of thought," Collison said. "There's a school of thought where you learn from veterans and it takes awhile to pick things up because you're not playing as much. And there's the other school that is the way we've gone where you put them out there and you let them play through things and learn a lot that way."

This route means Durant, Green and 20-year-old, second-year point guard Russell Westbrook now have complete control of the franchise. It means they will form the team's identity and have the power to make players fall in line, for better or for worse.

One by one, Presti has parted with veteran players to clear up more minutes for his youngsters, all designed to get to this day. He started by trading Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis before Durant and Green could pull a game jersey over their heads for the first time. And he went down the line from there: Wally Szczerbiak, Kurt Thomas, Delonte West, Luke Ridnour, Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith, Earl Watson and finally Desmond Mason.

Thomas and Kevin Ollie have been brought in to be veteran role models and provide a safety net at their respective positions. But it's Durant Green and Westbrook who will receive more minutes than anyone and must now be the ones who lead by example, in practice and in games.

Presti has entrusted his youngest guys with the task of being the vocal and emotional leaders. The ones who are counted on to make the right calls and take and make the big shots. The players who are expected to bring it every day no matter what.

"It's just us having to grow up and be more mature and having to push each other to get better," said Green. "Because me and Kevin, going into our third year, we've had two rough seasons. Russell had his first last year as did some other guys. We didn't like the feeling of that.

"So we're expecting a lot out of everybody. And if we continue to be hard on everybody, including ourselves, we're going to push our team to get better and a lot of things are going to change."



Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 8, 2009