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Kevin Durant calls Nick Collison Mr.Thunder for a reason

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Collison's role as a mentor to Steven Adams makes him essential to the Thunder's future.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When Sam Presti extended Nick Collison's contract in February, Kevin Durant posted this tweet:

High praise from the face of the franchise and well deserved because Collison has always given this team his absolute best. At his pre-season press conference, Presti had this to say about the only player he kept from the roster he inherited in 2007....

......we have a great group of guys that have been together and have enjoyed great success together....have gone through tough times together. We've got a group of younger guys coming through the pipeline of the program that are being mentored by our flag carrying members. I think the challenge of extending our culture through change and through different personnel.... that's happened... I went to Seattle to visit Nick Collison and Steven Adams was there working out with him... now... Nick is 34 years old, 35 maybe, Steven is like 23... they're not watching the same movies, ok.... but Collison is taking an intentional and active role... when I say building the organization... he's helping that guy. I think he's really invested in Steven and his success.

... and some of the summer's best images were captured during Adams "bro-trip" to Seattle:

I do not know whether these guys like the same movies or not, but it is clear that Mr. Thunder and the Funaki respect each other and have a singular purpose when they step on the court:

The video of that pre-game handshake drew a lot of attention last season. Some thought the clip was funny... or cute. I do not think they were looking close enough.

Pause the clip after the two men clasp hands and take a long hard look at Adam's face. Their eyes lock and a switch flips. There is no smile, no wink, no compromise...total focus and a simple nod of the head when they part.... it's game time. If you saw a large man with that expression coming at you in a dark alley would you think it was funny?.... neither would I.

These guys have hit it off from the very beginning. When Adams came into the league in need of a teacher, Collison, a man raised on the nuances of the game and how to teach it, was a perfect fit. During his rookie season Adams came off the bench with Collison and it did not take long for them to start clicking. So well in fact, that by season's end the pair helped lead the Thunder to a series ending game 6 road victory against the LA Clippers in the 2014 Western Conference semi-finals.

Putting aside the differences in age and cultural background, the similarities Adams and Collison share are obvious. Neither are prone to demonstrative acts of celebration after making a big play and both men attack their craft with the same stoic fearlessness.

Kindred spirits that clearly understand the benefits of discipline and hard work but who reached this point in their lives from opposite directions.

Adams grew up in New Zealand. Working hard and being tough because he had to. You don't have much choice when you are rough housing with 17 older siblings:

"....getting hit by them is really painful. But you can't say something about it, especially being the youngest. If you're the youngest and you say something, you'll get more hits."

Collison played high school basketball for his Dad in a small Iowa town and learned very young what kind of player he did and did not want to become. Nick spoke about the lessons learned listening to his father talk about his day in an interview he gave just before the 2003 NCAA Final Four:

"It's just like anybody at work, they come home and complain about the things they don't like, and work stuff that day. It's no different for a coach....[Dave Collison] coached a lot of good teams, but there's been bad teams. Just talking about guys being lazy, selfish, those type of things, you pick up on that. You pick up on what you don't want to be as a player...."

"You grow to despise those kids, too. I was like the manager, and I'm getting on those kids."

Different paths that led to the same life lesson.

I could be wrong, but I believe Adams will be in the starting five on October 28th and I am anxious to see what he learned on his "bro-trip". Way back in 2002, Nick spent his summer working out with the US National team and watching an aging Reggie Miller mentor his younger teammates made a lasting impression on Collison. The student is now the teacher and I expect improvement to Adam's offense game as well as defense because it is easy to forget when you watch Collison's blue-collar style today that Kevin Durant is not the only NABC Player of the Year on this team.

You do not win the POY award by merely being the "he does so much for the team that you don't see on the stat sheet" type of player. This is how you do it:

I have no doubt that working with Collison will make Adams a better player. The same is true for Mitch McGary and Enes Kanter. Nick was a beast that came within four points of a national championship... but that was thirteen years ago.

Today Mr. Thunder is much closer to retirement day than he is draft day. There is still juice in the tank otherwise Nick would not have signed on for another two years, that is not his style. Still, time is growing short and my advice to the young players coming down the pipeline is to make hay while the sun is still shining. Steven Adams knows what I mean.