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On Kevin Durant and his reaction to the Knicks-related speculation

Regardless of what Durant decides to do this summer, the way he is discussed by much of the basketball media is enough to justifiably frustrate him.

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Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Warriors forward Kevin Durant has been the focus of much of the basketball media. But not for what he’s doing on the court. The rumors have been swirling, heightened in the wake of the New York Knicks shedding salary (and Kristaps Porzingis), about Durant’s eventual departure from the Bay Area for the Big Apple. After these moves by the Knicks, seemingly aimed at opening up cap room to sign Durant and perhaps another max-contract level player, many people wondered what Durant’s thoughts were on this matter.

What did he think of the Knicks and their moves? Had anything changed in his mind? Had he already given some backroom word that he’d be joining the Knicks this summer?

All this coincided with (or led to) Durant abstaining from his media-related obligations, allowing the speculation story to linger since writers and reporters had no opportunity to address Durant himself. Stories were written and theories tweeted about while Durant maintained radio silence.

After the team’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, things reached a boiling point as Durant finally met with the media for a post-game press conference. It was a testy, angry exchange between Durant and reporters, one that opened Durant up to even more criticism than normal. Even though we’ve moved past that press conference, the fallout lingers.

I would like to offer up something akin to a defense of Durant’s behavior both leading up to that press conference and the press conference itself. I say “akin to a defense” because there are certainly things Durant has done that were not the best moves to make. Were it me in the same situation as Durant, I certainly might have done things differently. But I believe that Durant’s actions make sense when one thinks a little bit about them.

The rumors swirl

Durant made it clear very early on that he would not be discussing his free agency during the season.

“Focus on what goes on the court. I know it’s hard to keep up with it. I know it’s easy to look at that type of [expletive] because it’s the entertainment side. But wait until the season is over with to analyze [free agency]. I know it’s your job and it’s hard to say that, but try to shift some of your focus to the court, too. I know you have to still do your job and check on stuff like that, but every day? Every city I go to? Come on, man. I said what I had to say at media day. I understand your job, but let’s come to a little agreement. Don’t ask me every time you see me. If it’s the first time I’m seeing y’all, I don’t mind answering. But every time? Come on, bro.”

He was upfront and, by and large, the media obliged, particularly the Warriors-centric media with whom he most frequently interacted. Right now was right now; he was happy where he was and focused on the task at hand of winning a third-consecutive championship.

It was clearly something Durant was still not interested in discussing when his confrontation with Draymond Green in November poured some gasoline on the fire. Though he was never asked about the validity of Green’s barbs, since they had to do with Durant potentially leaving, they raised the specter of that choice and thus that upcoming decision was a part of the issue.

When asked about what happened and his relationship with Green in the first game following the incident, Durant responded curtly, clearly not wanting to talk about what happened between them or the issue that Green poked at during that game.

Even though he is poised to make a big decision this summer, Kevin Durant has remained focused on winning another title with the Warriors this season.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the eyes of some, that calculus to not ask Durant questions regarding free agency changed after the Knicks’ trade-deadline moves. Given Durant has that player option and the Knicks cleared up all that cap space while having an interest in signing Durant, many thought he needed to address these rumors. At the very least, he needed to open himself up to be asked about the speculation, the cloud of smoke that were these rumors that hung about him.

But Durant did not. In fact, he made a point of making himself unavailable from the media for an extended period of time. Nine days in fact. In Durant’s absence, the “story” continued to build.

Durant could have ended this quickly. He could have met with reporters and, knowing it was hanging in the air, prepared the canned answer. Something along the lines of “The Knicks will do what they do; I’m not making any decision until after the season; I’m focused on winning a championship.” It’s what I would have done, capitulate early to take care of any subsequent chatter. But one can perhaps understand Durant not wanting to dignify these questions with responses. Not allowing himself to be asked about it raised issues, but being too ready with a response might create more problems.

Why would Durant want to address what is primarily rumor and speculation? If he has made some kind of handshake deal with the Knicks to come there next season, he’d never address it. If he hasn’t, then those moves don’t concern him now because he is currently under contract with the Warriors. Other teams made salary-cap cutting moves at the trade deadline besides the Knicks, teams that would be interested in signing Durant this off-season. Should Durant be expected to address those teams’ moves?

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Golden State Warriors
Durant doesn’t have any problem talking with media members about basketball. But when the conversation shifts to speculation and innuendo about his future, he becomes more reticent.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There might not have been a right way to address to this. Durant might have been damned if he did or if he didn’t (one need not look further than Kyrie Irving and what happened when he was asked about the Knicks’ moves at the deadline). But whatever the case, Durant elected to go with radio silence until after Wednesday night’s game with the Spurs. Then the volume was turned all the way up.

A press conference to remember

There were two elements to Durant’s press conference response after the win over the Spurs—what he said and how he said it.

Durant addressed the elephant in the room— the Knicks and their salary-shedding moves. Durant offered up the following:

Now y’all piling on me because I don’t want to talk to y’all about that. I have nothing to do with the Knicks. I don’t know who traded Porzingis. That got nothing to do with me. I’m trying to play basketball. Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it.

Let us play basketball. That’s all I’m saying. Now when I don’t want to talk to y’all, it’s a problem with me. C’mon man. Grow up. Grow up. Yeah, you, grow up. C’mon, bro. I come in here and go to work every day. I don’t cause no problems. I play the right way. Well, I try to play the right way. I try to be the best player I can be every possession. What’s the problem? What am I doing to y’all?

Durant addressed the thing that had been on everyone’s mind and many websites—the Knicks. Durant made it clear once again that he didn’t want to discuss his free agency during the season and that the Knicks’ moves weren’t things he’d thought about.

Some might say it’s naive for the media to not cover the potential of Durant’s free agency and a potential suitor making moves to take a run at signing him. But it’s not as though this team is mediocre and there’s nothing else to talk about. This Warriors team is one of the best teams in the league and ranks among the greatest in NBA history. It’s not as though there’s a lack of on-court basketball things for the media to discuss. It’s something that is worth mentioning but not to an extreme, especially when one remembers that this team is chasing a third straight championship.

When one notes that this team is playing so well, with so many talented and interesting players, those who cover the team should realize there’s more than enough to talk about regarding the present. There might be smoke there regarding the Durant-to-the-Knicks noise, but there’s the raging fire of this team’s championship aspirations that should be the concern of those there to write about basketball.

I also disagree with the notion that Durant’s assertion that he wouldn’t discuss anything related to free agency during the season was invalid because of the Knicks’ moves. When Durant said that at the beginning of the season, both at media day and after the season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder, everyone knew the Knicks were going to be interested in signing him. Shedding Porzingis and all that salary might mean how they go about it is different (maybe they try to sign another player to go along with Durant), but it’s not like the notion of him coming to the Knicks wasn’t already out there and something to which Durant had not already responded to.

If Durant had said when he initially said he didn’t want to talk about his upcoming free agency that this still applied even if teams make salary cap-freeing moves, would this be such a big deal? I think it was safe to assume Durant had considered the fact that teams might make trades to free up cap space to try and sign him. I don’t think that initial assertion didn’t allow for moves to be made by teams. Thus, I don’t understand not bringing it up for half of the season just to change course because of something another team did (even if it is a team purported to be interested in acquiring Durant).

Getting angry to make a point

But the important part of Durant’s press conference wasn’t just what he said. In many ways, the medium was the message. On this Wednesday night, Durant was downright angry, making a point and calling out media members for what he’s viewed as questionable choices when it comes to their reporting and their writing.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors
Durant made noise both on and off the court against the San Antonio Spurs.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

While Durant was angry or frustrated at the media coverage (making a point of calling out The Athletic’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss for his piece with the very loaded title “On the Presumed Exit of Kevin Durant”), part of why he took that tone also had to do with reclaiming control of the narrative to some degree. One looks at Strauss’ follow-up piece to Durant’s press conference, in which he said “ Durant has amplified the story he theoretically wants smothered. He’s shining a laser pointer at a July calendar page and bemoaning that anyone dares see the bouncing beam” and can understand why Durant would be frustrated.

Durant answered the question; he’s not talking about it and anything else is speculation. That Strauss (and others) would say that his answer isn’t good enough for them gives us a window into why he abstained from talking. Nothing he said would be good enough, and no matter what it was and how it was said, a line had been crossed and this issue that was verboten for much of the season now wasn’t.

Whether or not there was truth to what Durant was complaining about (and there are things he did exaggerate in his anger and frustration), he was making sure his point was understood both through words and tone—this isn’t something he’s going to be talking about during the season.

Connecting dots or jumping to conclusions?

Durant’s frustration is worth revisiting in relation to the news that Durant’s ThirtyFive Ventures is opening up offices in New York City. This was something that was breathlessly tweeted about by members of the media as blatant, outright confirmation that Durant will be leaving next year.

But that reading takes something of a hit when one returns to Ramona Shelbourne’s piece for ESPN and finds a little context.

Kleiman is boisterous, excitable and intense. He has a ton of friends, sleeps with his phone on, spends hours every day workshopping ideas at home in what he calls his think tank.

In this sense, Durant knows exactly who he is. He’s not a hustler or a hype man. He’s a hooper who needs people like Kleiman and Thirty Five Ventures marketing whiz Sarah Flynn to build his business and brand for him. The company has 10 employees at the moment, but it is moving into a new office building in New York City as it continues what Durant insists is a careful expansion.

It appears as though much of the business of Thirty Five Ventures (which appears to be the more financial component of Durant’s holdings, as opposed to Thirty Five Media) was being run out of the New York home of Kleiman. Understandably, as the venture expanded, they would want to provide more office space and do it in the city closest to where things had been established. Noting that Durant “needs” Kleiman to “build his business and brand for him” intimates that those wheels need not turn right where Durant is living. It could very well portend an eventual move to the Knicks, but it also just as easily could not.

Wouldn’t Durant’s summers spent in Los Angeles be better subtextual evidence of a potential free-agent move? The generous leaps being made in interpreting moves that can also be seen in a fairly benign light reveals why Durant might be a little bit put off with the way the media at large discusses his affairs.

Whether or not Durant leaves the Warriors this summer remains to be seen. He very well could leave the West Coast and head for the East to play at Madison Square Garden with the Knicks. But the way this (speculative) story has been covered and the expectation that Durant must discuss it (even when he’s said he will not do so during the season) has left much to be desired while making his actions over the past couple of weeks make more sense.

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