Kevin Durant And The Road Ahead


Put the Roc Nation affiliation aside for a moment. Given the way his 2013 playoff campaign ended, Kevin Durant stands poised to enter the 2013-2014 season with an added sense of bloodthirstiness. And that's good, because so many other outside factors around him will be, too.

Narratives drive sports, especially in the world of basketball.

In the 21st century, where the mutations of Twitter, Facebook and talk radio serve as renegade kings, the logic is undeniably true in 2013. In the past two years alone, Derrick Rose went from the league’s media darling of everything right and humble to a petrified, overpaid, selfish glory hound in a tailored suit who refused to sacrifice his body as his teammates sacrificed theirs. And LeBron James has morphed from a guy who would never come through when his team needed him most to the best big-game player on the planet, bar none.

Keep in mind, Rose was coming off a career-threatening knee injury and was “cleared” to play by the team and doctors before he was mentally ready to reassume the role of floor general, distributor and leading scorer for a squad that wasn't going to win the championship in the first place. From there, bloodhounds were set loose on Rose, and through an accompanying package of factors, every ounce of the good will Rose established beforehand was gutted.

As for James? Well, the world knows how three bad playoff series can derail a potentially all-time great career — because, really, that’s all anyone has truly lobbied at James. There was the ’07 Finals where the Cavs had no shot whatsoever vs. the Spurs, 2010 semis against Boston where his lethargic Game 5 ruined what was statistically a good series and 2011 vs. Dallas, which was the worst possible performance at the worst possible time for LeBron — the closest thing America had seen to Hollywood Hogan since Hollywood Hogan.

Narratives are great and maddening for the game all at once. And over a month ago, when the Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder, I witnessed the narrative change once more — this time involving Kevin Durant.

Prior to Game 5, the labels were beginning to surface. Durant and the Thunder “choked” away Game 4. Durant “folded” under the pressure with meager fourth quarter performances. Questions of Durant’s true ability as a #1 guy were beginning to surface. Where some found enjoyment (i.e., "trolling") seeing Durant struggle to keep his team’s head above water in a battle we all knew the outcome for following Game 2, a weird feeling of déjà vu resurfaced.

It’s the exact connotation that followed LeBron for the first decade of his career. The same cloud of doubt that trailed Kobe to an extent before winning titles in 2009 and 2010 as the Lakers’ "alpha dog." And believe it or not, the same uphill battle plagued the widely accepted GOAT to the point Michael Jordan once admitted to Pat Riley ending his career without a title was something he was willing to come to grips with. Consider it basketball's version of "paying dues" or "Russian roulette."


Never mind the fact Russell Westbrook’s true worth to the Thunder was proven following a season-ending knee injury against Houston in the previous round.

Never mind the fact “the Kevin Martin experiment” failed miserably — as predicted here — while James Harden blossomed into one of the 10 best players in the league.

Never mind the fact Kendrick Perkins provided no offensive help and very little on the defensive end, despite resembling Jafar from "Aladdin" and Young Jeezy.

Never mind the fact Kevin Durant was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder who now had to moonlight as its best defensive player (Serge Ibaka was never the same after having his soul taken at the end of Game 4 vs. Houston a la Shang Tsung on Mortal Kombat), distributor and fourth-quarter killer.

Never mind the fact he was running on fumes by the end of those games and his own game began to suffer the effects, most notably from the free-throw line.

Never mind the fact that so many have the unfair ideology that every great player should rise to the occasion every single time when only one team can call itself champion every season.

I had a friend who has rode for Durant since his Texas days say something revealing following that Grizzlies loss. “This shit sucks. Everyone saying he choked, ran away from the moment. The shit sucks, man. It’s like all the variables going into and during the series didn’t matter. I see what LeBron dealt with.”

To be fair, Durant won’t receive nearly the vitriol LeBron did. At least not yet. Fans are always looking for the next guy to direct venom towards. From a seniority standpoint, that crown falls on the heads of players like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

Plus, Westbrook returns next year in what should be full freak-of-solar-system form. And perhaps Sam Presti somehow finds a way to secure a top five draft pick or bring a veteran swingman in the fold who would work wonders come dicey playoff moments when big shots and floor spacing are needed. Someone, like, let’s say, Paul Pierce, who is a much better late-game option on both ends of the floor than Kevin Martin. Pending how the books fall into place, options like Andre Iguodala or Stephen Jackson are available, too.

It sounds weird to say for a player who hasn’t reached his “prime” years yet, but not much is truly left to accomplish. Sure, defensively he can continue to take strides and he can up his assist numbers. But he’s already a three-time scoring champion (probably in the range of eight-10 by the time his career his over), a gold medal recipient with possibly another coming in 2016, All-Star Game MVP as well as the youngest member of the 50-40-90 club (which he’ll probably accomplish two more times in his career). And for what it’s worth, he is the flagship client of Jay-Z’s newly birthed Roc Nation Sports.

Rings fail to represent the lone factor in determining the true greatness of a player. Yet, the only surface hurdles left to climb are MVPs, championships and Finals MVPs. How and when these happen are better left for Durant to iron out on his own.

Expect next season to present its fair share of bumps, bruises and blood. Doc Rivers on the Clippers all but settles Chris Paul remaining put and the team as a whole taking two steps forward. That and the Vegas odds that the Clips will be the best out-of-timeout team in the world next year may be the safest non-Floyd Mayweather bet in America. If Chandler Parsons’ text messages to Dwight Howard work, Houston instantly becomes a bona fide title contender — and the unquestioned league leaders in strip club parties headlined by two teammates in James Harden and Howard at Dreams.

San Antonio is one made free throw and/or Tim Duncan being on the floor for one defensive rebound away from being world champs. Golden State has assumed Oklahoma City’s role as the “young, exciting, cool team everyone wants to watch led by a prolific scorer scouts doubted coming out of college.” And the Lakers will always be in the news because, well, they’re the Lakers and they've still got Kobe Bryant.

In layman's terms, the Western Conference won't exactly roll out a red carpet for Durant like he's Adele at the 2012 Grammys.


The 2013-2014 season doesn’t tip off for nearly another four months. By then, tanking will be the most obvious it has been since 2002-2003 with teams like Phoenix, Charlotte, Sacramento and more attempting to throw games as early as New Year’s in hope of landing Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or any other franchise-caliber stud in the 2014 draft. “Can the Heat three-peat?” will be a question driven into national consciousness. Then there’s the other 2,569 story lines involving everyone and everything from Andrew Bynum to next summer’s free agency.

Kevin Durant’s quest to return to the NBA Finals, however, is the one commanding the most personal attention (sans LeBron elevating his stature to another level with a potential third ring and fifth MVP trophy before turning 30). It’s a narrative we’ve become accustomed to so much over the years, which in turn has produced excessively ignorant logic and riveting television, oftentimes within the same quarter.

It’s Kevin Durant versus the world. It’s a potentially all-time great megastar continuing to push talent to the brink of what we know is possible, all in hopes of cracking an elite code only few of the game’s most iconic names ever have.

Purchase tickets early. The real Thunderstruck hits theaters this fall.

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