by Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When healthy, the Oklahoma City Thunder arguably have two of the five best players in the NBA in their starting lineup. Kevin Durant is the leader in the MVP race, and the team gets point guard Russell Westbrook back from a knee injury this week. They’ve got the best record in the NBA, and seem like the favorite to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
According to Durant, if it wasn’t for a former Sixer, the Thunder might not be in the position they’re in.
“Kevin Ollie, he was a game-changer for us,” Durant told ESPN’s Bill Simmons on the B.S. Report during All-Star weekend. Ollie only spent 25 games with the Thunder (after a short run some years earlier with the Sonics), playing a total of 263 minutes and scoring 44 points. Whatever it was, Ollie made an impression on Durant and the rest of the team. “He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City.”
Simmons asked Durant within the context of veteran leadership, and what point guard Derek Fisher has added to the Thunder.
The Thunder were 23-59 in the season prior to Ollie’s arrival, then jumped to 50-32 the following season, the team’s second in Oklahoma City after moving from Seattle.
“[Ollie’s] mindset, his professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that, we all wanted to be like that, and it rubbed off on Russell [Westbrook], myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And you know, everybody that comes through now, there’s a standard you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And that started with Kevin Ollie.”
The Thunder have another former Sixers player in a leadership role with the Thunder, head coach Scott Brooks played for the 76ers, as did former assistant coach Maurice Cheeks.
Ollie had two stints with the Sixers, in the late 90’s and mid-2000’s. He’s currently the head coach of the UConn Huskies.
Ollie’s Huskies will be in town Thursday to face Temple. Perhaps the Sixers can convince him to stick around an extra day or two to tell Michael Carter-Williams whatever he said to Durant.