Kevin Durant and the Media: The long and winding road


A detailed look at the long and winding journey that Kevin Durant has recently had with the media

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports recently published an article containing excerpts from an interview he had conducted with Kevin Durant. Haynes posed the question to Durant, did the Golden State Warriors mishandle the injury?

"“Hell, no. How can you blame [the Warriors]? Hell, no…I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and [director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] working out every day. Right when the series started, I targeted Game 5. Hell, nah. It just happened. It’s basketball. S— happens. Nobody was responsible for it. It was just the game. We just need to move on from that s— because I’m going to be back playing.”"

The speculation about the Warriors handling of Durant’s injury was just another in a long line of misinformed speculations about Kevin Durant, his future and his motivations throughout the 2018-19 season. If the Warriors really had any culpability or negligence in their management of Durant’s injury it would seem likely that legal remedy would be sought by Durant and his camp for the financial damages that his absence from the court this season will cause him.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

Furthermore, we have previously heard from the Warriors and now have heard directly from Durant that the Warriors did not push him back to play to soon.

The media is certainly permitted to report on anything they see fit, constrained only by broad latitude afforded the press by the Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, but does their reporting, that now extends well beyond the action on the court, only serve to distract from the game itself?

No player is a greater microcosm for the media’s reporting on-off court matters than Kevin Durant. Through 12 NBA seasons, Kevin Durant has never been suspended and has never been arrested, in fact off the court he is one of the most philanthropic players in the league, so much so that he won the 2018 NBA Cares Community Assist Award.

Many players throughout the years have encountered off the court issues that warranted reporting, especially as it relates to their availability to play in games, whether it had been due to suspensions such as Latrell Sprewell or Ron Artest or potential legal issues for players such as Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. To report on those issues is certainly fair reporting since it affects their on-court availability.

Kevin Durant, however, has never warranted such reporting. The only thing Kevin Durant did to illicit so much media coverage for his off-the-court decisions is that he continued to sign two-year deals with the Warriors that gave him a player option for the second year. However, Durant made it abundantly clear from the first question of media day this past season that he had no intention of discussing his free agency throughout the season.

When Mark Medina of Bay Area News Group asked him how he was going to handle the upcoming season with the free agency attention, Durant answered he would:

"“Wake up in the morning, come to practice and go home up until it’s time to stop playing.”"

Kevin Durant and Draymond Green got into an on-court argument on November 12, 2018, during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers, for which Draymond Green was suspended by the Warriors. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Draymond Green said to Durant during the argument:

"“We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.”"

Three days later after returning from his one game suspension, Draymond Green made a statement to the media that the argument would not affect the remainder of the season. Steve Kerr responded during his media availability following the announcement of Green’s suspension that:

"“Nobody ever talks about Kevin’s free agency. It doesn’t bother any of us.”"

After the incident, Kevin Durant said that it wouldn’t have any impact on his upcoming free agency decision.

In the face of Green and Durant’s statements, the media continued to report that the incident could derail the Warriors chances at a three-peat and could cost the Warriors the chance to retain Durant at the end of the season.

Lost in all this reporting was the fact that a really great game had unfolded at Staples Center. The Warriors closed the 4th quarter on a 19-5 run over the final 6:22 to force overtime behind two Klay Thompson 3-pointers and five more points from Kevin Durant, who finished with 33 points and a triple double before fouling out in overtime.

The game was still undecided until Lou Williams was fouled by Kevon Looney on a 3-point attempt with 13.4 seconds left in overtime. Williams hit all three free throws to extend the lead to five points and the Clippers went on to win the game. Klay Thompson had 31 points in the game, including five 3-pointers and Lou Williams and Montrez Harrell came off the bench to score 25 and 23 points respectively for the Clippers.

Later during the year, on February 5, 2019, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic (subscription requird) wrote an article entitled “Silent Star: On the Presumed Warriors Exit of Kevin Durant.” In the article Strauss speculated that Durant may be joining the New York Knicks during the offseason. He evidenced this speculation with the Knicks trade of Kristaps Porzingis, which created sufficient salary cap space to sign Durant. Furthermore, the Porzingis trade coincided with a prolonged avoidance of the media by Kevin Durant.

The next night Durant ended his media silence taking the podium for the post-game press conference following a win against the San Antonio Spurs. Ethan Strauss asked him about his silence over the prior eight days and whether there was any connection with free agency speculation.

"Durant responded, “I don’t think about that type of stuff that’s your job.”"

Again, lost in the media focus on his free agency was the fact that the Warriors had just won for the 13th time in 14 games in convincing fashion as they had beaten the Spurs by 39 points. During the third quarter they scored 49 points on 16 assists and at one point during a 15:26 stretch between the second and third quarters the Warriors made 24-25 shots en route to 65 points.

I appreciate that Kevin Durant’s potential departure from the Warriors, a team amid a quest to make the Finals for the fifth straight time, a feat that had not been accomplished since the Boston Celtics made the Finals 10 straight years from 1957 through 1966, may be of interest to many fans.

However, when Strauss wrote his “Silent Star” article on February 5th, free agency was still 144 days away. There were still 29 more regular season games and 22 playoff games played by the Warriors before Durant would ultimately make his decision.

What did the media expect him to say in response to questions about free agency? Did they expect him to announce that he was going to the Knicks and that they had traded Porzingis to acquiesce to his decision to sign there? Let’s not forget that Durant didn’t even sign with the Knicks, which goes to my larger point, that the media has no idea what these players are ultimately going to do. Thus, why not report on the games, the actual games, that matter.

The Warriors played 14 games during the regular season that were decided by three points or fewer and a 15th game decided in overtime. Steph Curry made 10 or more 3-pointers in a game six times during the regular season. That feat has only been accomplished 45 times in the history of the league and Curry did it six times this season. Klay Thompson hit 14 3-pointers, the all-time single game record during the season. Kevin Durant scored 25 points in the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden.

Durant also scored 44, 49 and 51 points in three straight games against Sacramento, Orlando and Toronto with Curry out of lineup. The Warriors also scored 51 points in the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets this year, the most scored in the first quarter in league history and scored 92 points in the first half against the Bulls, the second highest first half total in league history. In addition, they also worked DeMarcus Cousins, a fifth all-star, into the lineup after his return from an Achilles injury and played Alfonzo McKinnie solid minutes throughout the year. McKinnie’s journey from Luxembourg to the NBA was a great story and it was terrific watching him play all year.

Fast forward to the playoffs and following a four-point home loss to the Clippers in Game 2 of the opening round, a game in which the Warriors blew a 31 point lead, Durant responded to media questions about his lack of shot attempts by saying:

"“I’m Kevin Durant, ya’ll know who I am.”"

He went on to average 38.8 points per game over the next eight games, including 45 and 50 in Games 5 and 6 against the Clippers and 46 in Game 3 against the Rockets.

In Game 5 against the Rockets, Durant left the court with a calf injury. The Warriors were able to close out the game to seize a 3-2 series lead behind 20 second-half points from Steph Curry, including 16 points over the final 13:02 of the game after Durant’s injury.

In Game 6 the Warriors closed out the series on the Rockets homecourt behind a 33-point second half outburst from Curry, who had gone scoreless due to foul trouble in the first half. All six games of the series were decided by single-digits in one of the most hotly contested series I’ve seen.

In the Western Conference Finals, without Durant, the Warriors overcame deficits of 17, 18 and 17 in Games 2,3 and 4 to close out a series sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. During the series, the media questioned if the Warriors were better without Kevin Durant, including Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle whose article “Are the Warriors Better Without Kevin Durant,” was published on May 15th.

I think Klay Thompson, the Warriors all-star guard answered this question succinctly during his post-game press conference following Game 5 of the Finals, the game in which Kevin Durant tore his Achilles when he responded to a reporter, saying:

"“If anyone watched the last three years of basketball you saw this man was the Finals MVP back to back. So, all those talking heads who say we’re better without him, that’s just ludicrous, like that’s crazy. This is the best player in the world, you could put him on the 30th best team in the league and that team would make the playoffs that’s how talented he is. So, we don’t even pay any of that no mind because with him we are really one of the, I believe, one of the greatest teams to ever play, without him we’re a really good team but you throw Kevin Durant out there, like I said before, one of the greatest ever. So, we don’t pay that any attention because that’s just stupid.”"

Chris Broussard on his Fox Sports Radio show on May 20th suggest that KD’s worst nightmare was coming to pass, referring to Golden State potenitally making a run at the NBA Title without Durant.

Is this the same Kevin Durant who was in the tunnel celebrating his team’s victories and consoling them in their losses during his nine-game absence and the same Kevin Durant who tweeted out words of encouragement for his teammates from his hospital room in advance of Game 6 of the Finals?

On June 8th, Tim Kawakami of The Athletic (subscription required) wrote an article entitled “Exactly when the Warriors need Kevin Durant the most, nobody seems to know exactly what’s happening.”

Two days later, Durant started Game 5 of the Finals with the Warriors trailing in the series 3-1. After scoring 11 points in 12 minutes of action in Game 5, Durant suffered an Achilles tear with 9:49 left in the first half, an injury that will likely sideline him for the entire upcoming season.

In the wake of Durant’s departure to Brooklyn ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins suggested that Durant never  bounced back from the Draymond situation.

This is the same situation that Kevin Durant said two days after it happened would not affect his free agency decision.

Marcus Thompson and Ethan Strauss on the House of Strauss podcast on July 3rd and 5th opined that Kevin Durant did not feel appreciated in Golden State.

On June 30th Marcus Thompson (subscription required) suggested that KD’s main reason for leaving the Warriors was because wanted to play with his good friends.

That same day Ethan Strauss echoed in an article that KD simply wasn’t happy in Golden State, despite all the success.

Other than their own observations and the opinions expressed to them by other players, coaches or front-office executives, there is no first-hand support for either of these opinions, at least not directly from Kevin Durant himself. As such what is the necessity in even reporting on the reasons why you think Kevin Durant left the Warriors. The bottom line is he signed with the Nets, the Warriors acquired D’Angelo Russell in exchange for Durant and they will now seek to continue the dynasty without Durant.

On July 1st Stephen A. Smith reported on ESPN that among the factors contributing to Durant leaving for the Nets was the argument with Draymond Green in November, that Kevin Durant knew he could never receive the same treatment as Steph Curry in Golden State and his poor relationship with Steve Kerr. Kevin Durant contacted Stephen A. Smith during the broadcast and according to Smith called what he was saying on air BS.

The bottom line is that from the opening of training camp on September 24th all the way through his signing with the Brooklyn Nets 279 days later, the media has speculated about Durant’s potential departure from the Warriors. They have written about why he would leave and where he would go.

Now that he has left, they have written about his reasoning for leaving. However, almost everything that has been written or said has either been directly contradicted by Durant, was untrue or doesn’t really line up with what the people close to the situation were saying.

Perhaps Durant really did not feel appreciated by the Warriors. We certainly have not gotten any confirmation directly from Kevin Durant that this is the case. His teammates, coaches and the front office in Golden State continued to say over and over again throughout the year how much Durant meant to their success, how much they needed him back in the playoffs when he was injured and how great a player he was. Just read Klay Thompson’s remarks above about Durant after game 5 of the Finals, does this sound like a teammate that does not appreciate Kevin Durant.

Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Steve Kerr and Bob Myers echoed this effusive praise of Durant throughout the playoffs. At every media availability the players and coaches were asked about Durant, his performances, his absence due to injury and ultimately about his return to the lineup and subsequent devastating injury in Game 5 of the Finals. I would really implore you to search out those press conferences and listen not only to the words his teammates and coaches said about him but the sincerity with which they said it.

In addition to all of the speculative reporting by nearly all of the members of the media as it related to Durant’s free agency and his injury, what difference does any of it really make. Kevin Durant is now with the Brooklyn Nets. D’Angelo Russell is now with the Warriors.

Lost in all of the media coverage was a terrific season as the Warriors marched to their fifth straight Finals and turned in one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen by a team, playing with the number of injuries they sustained to Durant, Thompson, Looney, Cousins and Iguodala.  To be a shot away from forcing a Game 7, having lost two future hall of famers to injury along the way, is a testament to their greatness.

Even if you wanted to take a negative view on the season and question how a team with five all-stars could lose 25 games, not win the championship, get blown out on their homecourt six times, lose at home to the Suns and in a stretch between November 8th and January 3rd go 15-13, at least it would be about basketball and the actual games.

Stephen A. Smith, Ethan Strauss, Tim Kawakami, Marcus Thompson, Chris Haynes, Nick Fridell, Anthony Slater and the rest of the Bay Area and national media know only slightly more than the fans about the interpersonal decision making, feelings and motivations of today’s NBA players. What they do know more about than the fans is the game itself. Their job is to report on the games. This is their area of expertise, either through their days as a player or coach or through their experiences watching and writing about the game.

My recommendation and plea to the media for next season and for all seasons moving forward is to report on the game. There are great players and teams in the NBA. Every night there is a great story about a player or a team and their performances and the challenges they overcame on the court. Don’t lose sight of that greatness and take it for granted to placate to the fans insatiable thirst to know everything that is going on in the lives and minds of these players.

Next. NBA: Predicting the top scoring duos of the 2019-20 season. dark

We can never truly know the answers to those questions, what we can answer every night is how exciting the game was, how great a particular player played, how excited we are to see the next game and how much joy watching this great game brings to so many fans and communities across the nation and the world.

Next year when training camp starts rather than belabor the inevitable questions about where and when will D’Angelo Russell be traded by the Warriors, please write about the artistic play of Steph Curry, the poetry of their passing and teamwork and their heart as one of the all-time great champions in his sport I so love.