Kevin Durant is as naturally a nice guy as he is naturally a great basketball player.
But Kevin Durant’s nice guy persona also led fans and experts to think that that was counterproductive towards being a championship-level killer, a la Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Nice would only take you so far, as people would say.
Enter, mean and edgy Kevin Durant. We’ve seen moments of this Durant over the course of the last few years since the Thunder were bounced in the NBA Finals by the Heat. Few would know that in the 2013-14 season, Durant led the league with 20 technical fouls. The edgy Durant yielded no championship results.
Golden State Warriors
No matter how much scrutiny Durant felt in his nine seasons in Oklahoma City, it will pale in comparison to what he will endure in his inaugural season with the Warriors. Earlier this week, a reporter asked Durant again why he chose the Warriors in free agency after spending more time with his new team.
"“I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form,” Durant said. “They make it about the players, they make it about the environment, so it was really an easy choice.”"
The media naturally relayed the message over to Durant’s former superstar teammate, Russell Westbrook. To say that Westbrook was irked and bothered by Durant’s statement would be the understatement of the season.
At some point, Durant will have to be smarter about how he responds to incendiary questions like those. A harmless question is disguised as bait for more drama to be unfolded. Whether players like it or not, drama becomes noise that is counterproductive towards championship level goals and aspirations.
For Durant, he needs to take a page out of the New England Patriots’ media handbook- answer questions without ever giving them much to write about. The Warriors’ on-court play will be dissected like no other team in history. At the very least, Durant should avoid having off the court drama be another topic of discussion.
Getting back to just playing basketball for the love of it was on full display for Durant during the Olympics. Having just made the biggest professional decision of his life (and causing many to turn against him), the Rio Olympics were the timely platform that Durant needed to get away from all the noise.
If Durant is truly in love with the Warriors’ brand of selfless and familial basketball culture, then his focus should solely be on that. If he does, we will see the Durant who led a star studded Olympics squad to a relatively easy Gold medal win.
Fair or not, Durant will be public enemy #1 in the NBA this season. Outside the Bay Area, the Warriors can expect rowdy fans. Mental toughness will be key in Durant and the Warriors blocking out all the vitriol headed their way this season.
Even more importantly, Durant must go back to his nice guy ways. By just enjoying the game by itself, he could finally find himself in the ranks of NBA champions.