Tag Archives: USA Basketball

Kevin Durant: The Nurturing of a Legacy

durant usa

On Thursday, word came out that Kevin Durant decided to pull out of the World Championships. He was slated to be the team’s unquestioned leader and its main focal point offensively. Durant’s departure (and Paul George’s injury) has created a bit of a vacuum at the top of the World Championship team hierarchy. James Harden has the most tenure, but do you really want him being the leader of the group? They’ve brought in Rudy Gay to replace Durant’s scoring punch, but c’mon, it’s Rudy Gay. In seeing all this, many media members piled into Durant for abandoning his USA teammates, even throwing out words like selfish and entitled.

In reality, the kid that would play anytime, anywhere, decided to put himself ahead of basketball for the first time. And that completely shocked people, including myself. This is Durant we’re talking about. Go to your local Y or gym. Durant is the kid with the Nike backpack, high socks, and slides on his feet, walking around waiting for a game to kick off. He loves the game so much that he is willing to play it at any under any circumstance. Rucker Park, sure. Drew League, why not. Goodman League, let’s go. USA Basketball, hooping and patriotism put together? Hell Yeah!

But maybe it’s not Durant that’s being selfish. Maybe it’s us. We want our heroes to be there when we want them. Whether they are athletes or superheroes, we want them there at our beckoning. Every time we send the NBA signal into the sky, we want to see them play. Nine months out of the year isn’t enough. Summer league, USA basketball, preseason. We want our heroes at all times. But what we don’t realize is that heroes break down. One of the major themes in the superhero movies of today, is the physical and mental toll the superhero faces as the movie franchise progresses. Whether it’s Batman breaking down in Dark Knight Rises or Iron Man showing his mental and physical wear in Iron Man 3, this theme is one that resonates with almost everyone.

iron man

The common fact is that we break down as we age. We aren’t necessarily afraid of the number associated with our age, but with the inevitability that as that number increases, our bodies will never be the same. So then why do we chastise a player for taking control of his body and choosing not to expend any more energy than he has to? It’s not like this is Durant’s first foray into international basketball. He was the MVP of the World Championships four years ago and was one of the best players in the Olympics two years ago. Both times, he helped the United States win gold. More than likely, Durant will be there in 2016 leading the United States to gold in the Olympics in Brazil.

If anything, this is a sign of Durant maturing. He is no longer this boy wonder that wants to experience everything that is basketball-related. He is now a seasoned vet that is missing one final piece in the puzzle of his career. It’s the hardest one to obtain and one that usually takes heart-breaks and lessons learned to reach. As far as legacies are concerned, Durant has been a stat stuffer in his seven year career: 1 MVP, 4 scoring titles, 1st Team All-NBA 5 years in a row, Rookie of the Year, etc, etc. The championship is one that still eludes him. After reaching (and losing) the 2012 NBA Finals, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Thunder would be participants in multiples Finals after that. Their core was young and only going to improve, and they just experienced the agony of defeat. But the James Harden trade and injuries in playoff games in consecutive years to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, have left the Thunder on the outside looking in of the last two NBA Finals.

durant ibaka thunder

Durant is looking at the bigger picture now. He knew he was tired heading into the playoffs last season. It isn’t Durant’s fault the injury bug bit the team hard this past season or that Scott Brooks doesn’t yet know how to manage his superstar’s minutes. But this is the Durant we know. He never complained, never shied away from the challenge. He just put the team on his back night in and night out and led them to the second best record in the league. In the process though, he played the most minutes in the NBA and probably sapped most of his energy reserves that were needed in the playoffs.

And that’s not even looking at the cumulative effect Durant’s career minutes had on last year’s postseason. In his career, Durant has played in 97% of all possible regular season games. In addition he’s played in 77 playoff games and countless pre-season games. When you begin to add international play, you start to get a picture of the toll Durant’s career is starting to have on his body. And its at this point, that Durant probably said, “Enough!” Durant still loves the game. It has been his provider, his refuge, and possibly, his best friend. But at some point, Durant needed to start looking at his most valuable asset (himself) and protecting that. Because, hopefully, he has many more years left in the league and more “stats” to add to that legacy.

Josh Huestis and the Paul George Injury

paul george injury

First off, let’s get this out of the way. Josh Huestis is not Paul George. George is a two time All-Star, a two time member of the All-NBA third team, and a member of the 2014 NBA All-Defensive first team. Huestis, on the other hand, barely registered on the draft radar until he was surprisingly chosen at the end of the 1st round by the Oklahoma City Thunder. To say that these two would somehow intersect in the basketball stratosphere, would be surprising at best and insulting at worst. But in the wake of George’s catastrophic leg injury in Thursday’s Blue and White scrimmage, a case could be made that somehow intertwines their two stories.

As I previously wrote, Huestis and the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a one of  a kind deal the NBA had never seen. The American born Huestis agreed to become the first domestic draft and stash player that was drafted in the first round. He would hold off on signing his guaranteed rookie contract, and instead, would develop for a season under the guise of the Thunder’s D-League team. Huestis’ earnings would go from a guaranteed high of $900,000 to about $30,000. After a bit of backlash from NBA media members, the truth finally revealed that it was a joint deal concocted by both the Thunder and Huestis and his agent.

durant love coach k colangelo

After the George injury, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban got back on his pedestal and started bellowing into his megaphone about the risk the teams were taking with their top players participating in international competition. In some respect, I do agree with Cuban. The NBA team takes all the risk when it comes to their player(s) participating in basketball related activities outside of the team’s scope. Players participating in USA basketball are the best of the best and their salaries usually reflect that. The Indiana Pacers signed George to a max contract (5 years/$92 million) last summer. This past season was the last year of George’s rookie contract, so his extension kicks in this upcoming season. Unfortunately for the Pacers, George will probably spend the first two years of his max extension working his way back into form. By the time he is fully healed, the championship contending Pacers team we’ve seen the the last two season may look entirely different.

While I do agree that NBA teams take the brunt of the risk, I don’t agree with his quest to stop NBA players from playing in international competitions. The USA basketball program under Jerry Colangelo and Coach K has been very organized and has had a near clean track record in regards to the health of the players. If I’m an owner, I would much rather have my guys practicing under the guise of an NBA-like practice, instead of playing with a bunch of no names on the blacktops in Manhattan or at the Drew League. In addition, while the competition between NBA players is fierce, there is probably a modicum of restraint in practice as all the players know the bigger goal in mind is making it to the gold medal game healthy and making it to training camp healthy.

josh huestis summer league

 

The one variable that was different between the Paul George injury occurring in the Thomas and Mack Center and that injury occurring in an NBA arena was the amount of space between the court and the goal’s stanchion. The play itself, a fast break block attempt, is one that happens numerous times in a game. Paul George has probably made that play thousands of times in his life time. This time, all the variables went against him, and he ended up with a grusome injury. That could have happened in the Thomas and Mack Center, just like it could have happened at Pauley Pavillion, just like it could have happened at Rucker Park, just like it could have happened at the Staples Center. Players play. That’s what they do. And they’d rather do it with their peers, as opposed to doing with a coach and a bunch of stationary chairs positioned on the court. As Kevin Durant said, “Steel sharpens steel.” Players push each other to get better. That is a rite of passage every offseason. I’d just rather have it done with Coach K screaming at the players instead of Hannibal “The Most Electrifying”.

But back to Huestis. While the teams are taking all the risk when it comes to international basketball, Huestis is taking all the risk when it comes to his career. The Thunder own Huestis’ rights, but if Huestis were to suffer a Paul George or Shaun Livingston-like injury in the D-League, it will be very interesting to see if the Thunder will just cut their losses and renounce Huestis’ rights, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. That was the objection that a lot of NBA writers put up when they heard about this deal. And that was all before the Paul George injury pierced through each one of our optic nerves. Now that we’ve been reminded that freak accidents happen when human beings are jumping and sprawling all over the place, I’m almost hoping that Huestis makes it out of this next season completely healthy. I have no doubt the Thunder would honor the first two years of Huestis’ contract out of sheer loyalty. Say what you want about how the Thunder operate, but player loyalty is never something they are lacking in. I just hope it doesn’t have to become a decision.