Kris Shannon: Awesome Adams on the boil, bro

Oklahoma City Thunder’s star Kiwi centre is working on another tasty NBA recipe.
While long-range proficiency is one box Adams is unlikely to tick, the rest of his game is ascendant.
While long-range proficiency is one box Adams is unlikely to tick, the rest of his game is ascendant.

One exchange in Steven Adams' homecoming press conference captured all that has changed since the hulking and hirsute basketballer first left these shores.

Amid the questions about the departure of former teammate Kevin Durant and the success of sister Valerie, a television personality asked whether Adams would be so gracious as to appear in her upcoming cook book.

There was nothing particularly revelatory about the query - any athlete with mainstream appeal is subject to the weird and wonderful when microphones are placed in front of their face. It was the reaction that was indicative of the 2.13m (7ft) Adams' ever-growing stature.

The Oklahoma City Thunder centre, as gregarious and affable as always throughout the 15 minutes he spent with local media, struggled initially to find a response, turning to his right and the looming presence of agent Darren Matsubara.

Which was when the request was not necessarily denied but certainly postponed. "I'll think about it," Adams eventually uttered, as a way of moving to the next topic.

The 23-year-old may still sound and act like a prototypical Kiwi - and nothing about him suggests it's an act - but a laid-back giant who ends every other sentence with "bro" is becoming much more au fait with the spectacle of American sport.

Adams is now comfortable in a world of high-powered agents and frivolous invitations. A world where press conferences resemble a circus and where the basketball court is but one element of his everyday existence.

It's still, naturally, the most important element. No one would question Adams is driven entirely by what happens on the hardwood; the rest is merely an unavoidable part of the equation. But his standing became unavoidable with every dunk thrown down in last season's playoffs, with every glowing reference in the most respected of basketball circles. Adams is now a star.

Not that, after a breakout third year in the NBA, he's about to attend film premieres and sip from champagne flutes.

"I'm just sticking with the process, bro," he says while sitting in the rather unglamorous location of a North Shore gym. "It ain't like I've accomplished anything. We didn't win a championship or anything like that."

It's true: last season ended not with a title but with playoff heartbreak, powerless as his Oklahoma City squandered a 3-1 lead against the Golden State Warriors and left to watch as his conquerors did likewise against the triumphant Cleveland Cavaliers, a series after which one Warrior insisted the defeated Thunder were the best team in the playoffs.

But accomplishing nothing? There's that Kiwi modesty. Adams in the post-season announced himself as one of the best centres in the NBA, earning plaudits for his finishing around the rim, his relentless rebounding and, of course, his Adams apples.

He was widely-regarded as the Thunder's third-most valuable player and that lofty ranking could lift a notch when the new season tips off in two months, given Durant's stunning decision to join forces with the Warriors.

For the rest of the league, that move transformed the record-breaking Golden State into an apparently unstoppable juggernaut. And for Adams, it intensified his importance to the Thunder, who proceeded to lock up Russell Westbrook but lost the fearsome one-two offensive punch he formed with his fellow All Star.

Quizzed on what would be different, however, Adams shrugged. "The biggest thing is probably no Kevin. That's pretty much it, bro. And then we just figure out what the coach wants from there.

"The thing with the Thunder, bro, is that there's no like senior guy. Obviously Russ is captain and stuff like that, but we try to keep it equal. Everyone's open and we have open discussion, because everyone has good ideas. So as long as there's that feeling, and everyone can talk about their situation and problems, that'll be the safest bet, to rely on that more than just, 'these two guys know what to do'."

Adams appeared increasingly adept and assured last season.

Always defensively sound, more and more he thrived at the opposite end, particularly when Westbrook picked out his imposing presence, and the pair's relationship was reportedly one factor that saw the spurned point guard sign a contract extension once Durant took his talents to the Bay Area.

And Westbrook's retention will surely raise the probability of Adams re-committing to the team who selected him with the 12th pick in the 2013 draft, while also amplifying the Thunder's desire to keep another member of their young core.

Adams' contract was deemed off-limits by Matsubara, who counts the Kiwi among a double-digit NBA client list, but one fact never needed to be spoken: Adams will soon be remunerated like no other New Zealand athlete - potentially as much as $30 million a year. Yet neither an upcoming payday nor a Durant-sized hole will see Adams drastically adjust his role. Although the centre - boasting a grand total of zero three-pointers in three seasons - did joke that coach Billy Donovan might be receptive to a few extra attempts from beyond the arc.

"I'll keep doing the same stuff. It isn't up to me," he says. "It's the coach's job to put us in the best position to succeed, not only individually but as a team. I'm just waiting for his word so I can shoot some threes."

While long-range proficiency is one box Adams is unlikely to tick, the rest of his game is ascendant. Across 18 games in the Thunder's ultimately unsuccessful post-season, he averaged 10.1 points on 61 per cent shooting while grabbing 9.5 rebounds. All numbers were improvements on Adams' career averages, shining when the lights were at their brightest.

"Playoffs are just a whole new level," Adams says. "You have to be 100 per cent focused as a team the whole time, which is very hard to do - be all on the same page. Why we lost, it came down to two possessions out of like 400 or whatever."

The dagger blow of Durant's shift west is far from fatal but the damage is severe. Plenty will change come in late October, though any alterations for Adams will be barely a ripple compared to the metamorphosis he has undergone in recent years. After all, while waiting to assess the fall-out, Adams has a recipe to work on.

- NZ Herald

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