Durant, LeBron know practice makes perfect - NBC Sports

Durant, LeBron know practice makes perfect
Dream Team era has led to best trying to get better by working out side by side
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LeBron James, left, and Kevin Durant celebrate winning the gold medal with Team USA at the Olympics this summer. Since then, the two have continued to work out together in preparation for the NBA season, despite being on separate teams.
September 14, 2012, 5:09 pm

Q. Why would Kevin Durant fly up to work out on LeBron's turf when the rest of the Thunder are playing together? Did Brooks or Presti sign off on that?
- Steve, Lawton, Okla.

A. No one gets to sign off on what players do in their free time, not Thunder coach Scott Brooks, not Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti.

Even on the eve of training camp, this is still the offseason. In fact, with so many teams organizing "informal"-yet-structured workouts in advance of the Sept. 29 start of the earliest of camps, one has to wonder whether the NBA will have to step in with closer oversight, as the NFL has done with its offseason programs.

Getting beyond such protocols, it would seem that such Durant-James workouts should be embraced, the best trying to get better by working alongside the best.

The reality is that since the inception of the Dream Team era, everything has changed. Now, almost annually, the NBA's best are playing side by side on national teams. By the time Kevin Durant traveled to Akron he already had spent nearly half the offseason alongside James, with the buildup to the Olympics and then the London Games themselves.

Basketball, with its AAU roots, is a sport where stars come together at young ages, build enduring bonds.

It's one thing to ease up against a friend in actual competition. But we certainly didn't see that from James or Durant during last season's NBA Finals, and as long as they remain leading candidates for MVP, the competition figures to remain intense.

All the sessions in Akron did is remind us that each will arrive to camp ready to go. Now, when the sessions occur when players are impending free agents ... that's another story.

Q. Matt Barnes now, too? Tell me anyone with a better supporting cast than my Clips?
- Ross, Irvine, Calif.

A. For a team that has operated almost the entire offseason without a designated GM, an aspect that only recently was rectified, the Clippers have been remarkably active during free agency.

Barnes wasn't what he used to be with the Lakers. Lamar Odom essentially took last season off. Jamal Crawford is coming off a down year. Ronny Turiaf might have won a championship ring with the Heat, but he didn't necessarily earn one. Willie Green has seen better days. In fact, it could be argued that the only real coup for the Clippers in free agency was Grant Hill.

With the Lakers getting stronger, the Thunder remaining strong and the West full of deep rosters, the supporting cast won't be what gets the Clippers over the top. That, again, will have to be the work of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

And, frankly, if that burden becomes too significant amid such uncertainty with the supporting cast, the Chris Paul era could wind up shorter than envisioned.

Q. If I want to see a team with homecourt advantage in the playoffs, would it be the Knicks or Nets? (With Blatche and Childress, don't I already have my answer?)
- Herb, Canarsie, N.Y.

A. Well, since Canarsie is in Brooklyn, I assume you already have made up your mind on this one.

Actually, the most interesting aspect of adding Andray Blatche and Josh Childress at non-guaranteed, minimum deals is that any contributions would be bonuses.

When it comes to the Knicks-Nets debate, it will come down to the starting lineups. And even with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in the Knicks' starting lineup, an argument could be made for New York's superior defense, particularly once Iman Shumpert comes back.

For the Nets to push the Knicks, it could come down to Brook Lopez offering as much on offense for New Jersey as Tyson Chandler offers for New York on defense.

The wild cards are Stoudemire and the Nets' Gerald Wallace, players you don't necessarily equate with postseason-level success.

With the Knicks' core together a bit longer, the early edge might got to New York. But the way the East is setting up, a No. 4 vs. No. 5 opening-round playoff series certainly would not be out of the question. It might be that razor thin.

Q. I saw Mark Cuban on NBCSN Thursday night. Could it be he has it right and everyone else has it wrong? It didn't sound like sour grapes when he talked about losing Deron Williams?
- Ed, St. Louis

A. I agreed with a lot of what Mark had to say regarding the luxury tax, that you get into it when you are on the precipice of a championship, but that it also can exact too large a toll if you toil within its confines for an extended period.

But let's also be candid. If the Mavericks landed Deron Williams, Dallas already would be talking about legitimate title contention, would be building a significant portion of its marketing around a player that arguably can be considered the league's best at his position.

What the Mavericks have shown is that you can remain in the playoff race with a prudent approach to free agency, while waiting for your, shall we say, big-three opportunity.

Yet I always return to a thought offered more than once in this space: Is such franchise prudence fair to a player like Dirk Nowitzki, buying time while another season of Dirk's career passes without legitimate title prospects? Of course, in 2011, few saw that as a contending roster, either.

Which leads to another point made in this space before: With Rick Carlisle as your coach, you always have a chance to overachieve.

Q. Ira, you coming up here when we get our Sonics back?
- Tim, Tacoma, Wash.

A. First, I actually covered the Sonics when they played at the Tacoma Dome when KeyArena was undergoing its (apparently ill-fated) renovation, so I assume you're talking about the plans for a new arena in Seattle.

Most assuredly Seattle won't be getting the Sonics back because the Thunder aren't going anywhere. But if you mean when you get the Kings, you might be closer to the truth.

Fact is, several NBA cities currently are hosting teams where there is far less support than even during the Sonics' darkest days in Seattle. Seattle deserves an NBA team, has too rich of an NBA legacy to be denied.

There were few better NBA trips than Seattle, and it would make Portland feel a whole lot less isolated with another team down the road (heck, the notion of getting to go back to Vancouver also would be tempting).

I'm rooting for Seattle (and also rooting against some of the current, dreary NBA markets which currently are displaying something less than major-league support).

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.