Kevin Durant simultaneously seems to detest the spotlight and covet the attention paid to LeBron James, a paradox that all but assures us they will never join forces as Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
At least, that’s our takeaway from Durant’s conversation with Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, who searched for answers as to why star players — namely impending free agents Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler — no longer appear interested in partnering with James in pursuit of a championship.
“So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,” Durant told Bucher. “He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points. So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is bulls— attention, fluff. It’s not LeBron’s fault at all; it’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball.”
There is a lot to unpack there.
What is Kevin Durant even talking about?
It is true that Durant was largely vilified for joining the 73-win Warriors team that his Oklahoma City Thunder had taken to a Game 7 of the Western Conference finals months prior, while the narrative about James taking his talents to South Beach and chasing rings with the Miami Heat softened once he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers and disposed of that same Warriors team in the 2016 Finals.
James is now widely considered one of the two greatest basketball players in history, and with that comes a certain level of respect from the media, along with some fawning from those attempting to gain access to history as it happens. But let’s not pretend like Durant, who is well on his way to being one of the 10 greatest players ever, if he’s not already there, isn’t afforded a corresponding level of respect. It’s not as if the Bay Area’s many beat writers are trashing Durant at every turn, and nationally he is recognised for transforming the Warriors into arguably the best basketball team ever assembled.
Let’s also not pretend like James has had it easy. He too was vilified for the way he joined the Heat, overpromising countless rings, and he emerged a hero not by painting the media as the enemy, but by proving them wrong. James is the most scrutinised athlete in the world right now, and some of the toxicity of his teams over the years is most certainly his fault. Subtweeting teammates, undermining coaches, leaving dilapidated franchises in his dust, it’s all part of his story — one written under an incredible amount of pressure from fans, media, coworkers and the expectations he has for himself.
Are we to believe groupies in the media hanging on LeBron’s every word forced his mysterious broken hand, Kyrie Irving’s trade request, J.R. Smith’s soup throwing, Magic Johnson’s undressing of Luke Walton or any of the thousands of dramatic storylines surrounding his teams throughout his career? The media covered those stories extensively, to be sure, and that’s part of the reason why the NBA has never been more popular. The spotlight on James, Durant and their teams might be a lot dimmer if there weren’t consumers who indulge in superstar culture. Their pockets might be a bit thinner, too.
Sometimes, you get the feeling Durant prefers to face James in an empty gym somewhere, like when he tells the media “just get out of the way and let us play basketball.” Other times, you get the sense he wants nothing more than to be the NBA’s headliner, like when he told us this earlier in the season:
Kevin Durant says LeBron James and the Lakers are getting more attention because they are a "sexier story" than the Warriors despite the champs going for a three-peat. KD added that DeMarcus Cousins being out at the start of the season also has calmed the Warriors' spotlight.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) September 24, 2018
This is to say nothing of Durant’s dreams of becoming a financial mogul and marketing phenomenon, much like James. Let us not forget he chose to join the Warriors of his own volition. He also chose to sell cupcake-themed sneakers in an attempt to deride his haters. He’s playing the fluff game, too.
It sure sounds like when Durant speaks of the toxicity surrounding James, he’s in some part referencing the attention paid to him in Golden State. (He should also remember the media didn’t coerce Draymond Green into igniting their recent dramatic shouting match.) Regardless, if Durant despises the toxic culture around James, you can understand why he would never want to join forces on the Lakers, despite vaguely sourced reports to the contrary from the likes of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Can you imagine the spotlight on James and Durant if they shared the same L.A. arena?
All of which is a longwinded way of saying I have no idea what Durant is talking about. I assume he would consider all of what was just written “bulls— attention, fluff,” so let’s talk basketball, shall we?
Durant doesn’t think young players complement LeBron
Durant sure doesn’t seem worried about LeBron’s Lakers posing a threat to the Warriors as currently constituted. Here’s more from him on why superstars have not partnered with James, via Bucher:
“Kevin Love, he had to totally change his game to fit, to be a shooter. Which, I think, he deserves way more credit for switching his game. Bosh, same way. LeBron is a player that needs to play with guys that already know how they play the game — and shooters. Like, young players that are still developing, it’s always going to be hard because he demands the ball so much, he demands control of the offense and he creates for everybody.”
Considering the Lakers are replete with still-developing young players who aren’t exactly dead-eye shooters, Durant is suggesting that they will need more complementary veterans in order to maximise LeBron’s impact over the course of his four-year contract in L.A. (I couldn’t agree more, by the way.)
Durant doesn’t think Kawhi makes sense with LeBron
Kawhi Leonard is not that complementary veteran, according to Durant, via Bucher once again:
“It depends on what kind of player you are. If you’re Kyle Korver, then it makes sense. Because Kyle Korver in Atlanta was the bulk of the offense, and he’s not a No. 1 option at all, not even close. So his talents benefit more from a guy who can pass and penetrate and get him open.
“If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi, trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense. Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offense, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game. A lot of young players are developing that skill. They don’t need another guy.”
First of all, take it easy on Korver, man.
Secondly, Kawhi Leonard will be 28 in June, the same age Durant was when he decided to join the Warriors and share the ball with a two-time Most Valuable Player and point guard named Stephen Curry, along with two other All-Stars. Granted, the Warriors are a near-perfectly blended set of complementary stars, but Durant still reached the conclusion that he needs another No. 1 guy.
I feel like LeBron and Kawhi could figure out how to play together. (Leonard reportedly doesn’t want to play second fiddle to James, either, which was the point of Bucher’s piece.) Dwyane Wade certainly found a way. Maybe Durant would rather Leonard didn’t team up with James. Maybe he’s projecting his own line of thinking onto Kawhi. Maybe he knows much more than we do. Maybe I’m just a Blog Boy.