OKLAHOMA CITY — For the first time, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be forced to play without Kevin Durant for more than a handful of games.
The team announced that the league’s reigning MVP would be out for an undetermined length of time with a fracture in his right foot, at the base of the small toe. Typically, the injury requires surgery and six to eight weeks of healing.
The Thunder haven’t officially determined what’s next, although general manager Sam Presti said surgery would be likely.
The Thunder will play without Durant on Tuesday night in a preseason game against Memphis.
“No one’s feeling sorry for us,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “I can honestly say I did not receive any text messages from coaches around the league looking to postpone the season.”
Opponents have seen more than enough of Durant. Since he entered the league in 2007, he leads the league in points and minutes played. He has missed just 16 regular season games in his seven-year career and has never missed more than eight games in a season.
His longest absence was a seven-game stretch during the 2008-09 season because of a sprained right ankle. He missed one game last season, one game the season before, played in all 82 games during the 2009-10 season and all 66 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
“When you look at Kevin, you see all the great offense of abilities and leadership qualities, but you never really think about the toughness, for him to be able to play all those years and play just about every game at a high level, and he continues to get back up,” Brooks said.
Point guard Russell Westbrook, who has missed significant time the past two years with a knee injury, admires how durable Durant has been over the years.
“Very, very impressive,” Westbrook said. “He’s probably one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. He comes in every day and does what he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t take days off in practice. He tries to compete every day. It’s definitely unfortunate, but he’s a strong guy mentally and physically, and he’ll get back to his better form.”
Brooks said Durant is struggling with the idea of missing games, even though it’s the preseason.
“He’s about as good as anybody can possibly be,” Brooks said. “One of the things I love about Kevin is he loves to play. He loves the game of basketball. He’s very passionate about it. It’s not a hobby for him.”
Durant felt discomfort in the foot on Oct. 11 and told the Thunder staff, leading to the diagnosis. Brooks said the injury could have been much worse if Durant had waited to get help.
“This is a minor, minor setback in the big scope of things,” Brooks said. “He’s going to come back in no time, and like I said, our goal is to be a better team when he gets back from where we are today without him.”
The injury puts more of the focus on Westbrook, an explosive scoring point guard who averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists during last year’s playoffs. This season on media day, Brooks called Westbrook the best point guard in the NBA.
Westbrook said his role won’t change.
“It’s not about me, it’s about our team,” he said. “I can’t win games by myself. I can’t do anything by myself, so I kind of want to take the attention off of me and put it on more of the team. Everybody keeps asking what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change. I think it’s more about our team, and what we can do to get better.”
Westbrook said while he fought through injuries, he learned a lot from the way Durant stepped his game up. With Westbrook sidelined after Christmas until the All-Star break last season, Durant took control of the MVP race by averaging 35 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists while leading the Thunder to a 19-7 record.
“He did what he needed to do to help us win games,” Westbrook said. “He continued to have confidence in his teammates.”
(CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer)