At this point, it’s best if we just start an official countdown. We’re not at 3…2…1 territory yet, but we are moving in that direction. The “Kevin Durant is the new punching bag” narrative is on the way. The hate is going to be real and it’s going to be spectacular.
We keep having these déjà vu moments. They arrive with the consistency of jets leaving LaGuardia Airport. As soon as we select a player that we like, we jettison him into the clouds and make him holy, marvel as he walks on water, and tell each other stories about how we knew he was going to be great back when we watched him in high school.
Fans, pushed by the cattle prod of the sports media industrial complex, decide who plays hero and who plays villain in these high-stakes match-ups. The hype consumes everything and the script is laid out: ROY, playoff success, MVP, championship. If you are great, truly great, then that’s the way it has to go. There is no negotiating with manifest destiny.
Coming into the season, Durant was the poster boy for NBA mega-stardom in the post-Decision era. Identified as someone who embodies everything you want from a franchise player. With career averages of 26.6 point, 6.8 rebound and 3.1 assists (with a career FG percentage of 47 percent), he’s two more typical-Durant seasons from entering HOF discussions. He’s been regarded as responsible to his community, a good teammate, and is humble and “unselfish.”
That’s the 36-24-36 of NBA best-case scenario attributes.
Going to the Finals last year then coming back with his best season yet – and leading the Thunder to the No.1 seed in the West – is all part of the script. He’s right on schedule.
Or he was, anyway. Struggling against Memphis, and losing the series the way he did, is counter to what we’ve learned. How could this happen? We feel like we’ve been bamboozled, so we look for reasons to explain it.
In Game 5 Memphis snuffed him out, plain and simple. Durant looked beat, shoulders slightly hung, eyes full of bewilderment. Every time they showed his stat line, a collective “damn bruh” resonated. We blame Scott Brooks for creating unimaginative plays (which he did); we blame Serge Ibaka for his half-ass attempts to step up; we blame OKC GM Sam Presti for trading James Harden; and we blame Kendrick Perkins for being a big hulking scrub.
What comes now is as inevitable as summer heatwaves. We are going to blame Durant for not being good enough. The word “clutch” will be written off of his biography page, even though he’s been recognized as such for the last few seasons. The whispers are audible, now. There is going to be a little bit of overrated talk, so be prepared.
The elevation of Russell Westbrook comes next. All of those Shaq/Kobe comparisons seemed trite before, but now, once people start asking who the better player is, the fake might turn authentic. Seeds are being planted at this moment. Ever since his injury, the Russell Westbrook mea culpas haven’t just been strong, they’ve been projectile vomited by writers coast to coast. Dudes were doggin’ Westbrook out and saying he was selfish, trying to say he was a bad teammate. Mutiny sells, and lots of people wanted it. We wanted the Starscream and Megatron scenario, and we were salty that it never happened.
Unlike previous teammates fighting over shots and media attention, both guys are popular (Westbrook is a brand name player partly because of his fashion sense) and respected, and both guys share in carrying the team. There is no discernible beef. And whatever agreement they have not only works, it causes the team to thrive. If Westbrook didn’t get hurt, they’d breeze their way back to the Finals. I don’t care what anyone says.
RW’s injury completely recalibrated the Western Conference playoff picture and with it, the mainstream appreciation for Kevin Durant. Remember how dudes were praising him when he announced his resigning with OKC via text message? I’m sure there was a contingent of media people who sent him flowers.
What you’ve heard over the last month have been terms that you certainly didn’t hear before. Now he’s “not assertive,” and “disappears sometimes.”
We figured Westbrook’s penchant for overshooting was the fault of Thunder’s head coach Scott Brooks. Somehow, he hadn’t made him understand, hadn’t tightened the reins sufficiently.
But now we blame Durant. Say things like “Michael never did” or “Kobe wouldn’t.” Attempt to draw parallels between KD and those two universally identified, well, you-know-whats. (You ever notice how people never say things like “Duncan did it this way.” No, me neither. Hope you understand why.)
Truth is, RW, arguably, does wave Durant off too much, and there’s no way second-year guard Reggie Jackson should be waving Durant off, at all. That said, we can’t keep harping on how much Durant needs help, and not expect players to hear this and take it upon themselves to try and impact the game. It’s not always disrespectful to not pass; sometimes it’s ambition.
It’s human nature to ask questions, to yearn for answers. If Kevin Durant is one of the two best basketball players on the planet Earth, how is it that he lost to another team featuring not a single player even in the top 10? How is it that he shot under 40 percent for the last three games of that Memphis series? His last attempt in Game 5 was a wide-open jumper, his money shot, and clanged out with the quickness. What follows next will be the breakdown. His name will be spoken with disdain throughout the entire summer. Somebody, somewhere right now, is either working on or considering starting a “maybe Durant’s not a good as we think” story. It will be published on a major website and adorned with a fancy headline. That person is going to feel proud of his or her self about it. That person will be proven wrong when Durant comes back next year with a bubbling cauldron full of anger.
It took Olajuwon 10 years to win a ring, Shaq eight years, KG a whopping 13. Nobody ever said it was easy. There are ups and down in sports, just like in life. This is the last time Durant’s going to get a free pass. If he fails next season, he’s likely going to get the pre-ring LeBron treatment. It will be deserved on some level. To what extent? Can’t say, right now. But if the failure is great, don’t be surprised to see a new guy brought up to the heavens. Andrew Wiggins, here we come.