September 22, 2010
For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league.
Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee. A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that. Hopefully you are, as well.
"K" is for "Kevin Durant."
Apparently, the last bit of Kevin Durant(notes) that we saw from last spring doesn't really count anymore. His contract extension and that run in the world championships have made him into something else altogether.
The last time I saw Durant play for the Oklahoma City Thunder -- I was stuck in a hotel room up in Milwaukee -- just doesn't represent the sheer breadth and promise of the man's overall game. Not yet 22, Kevin Durant has become the go-to "everything's all right" move for NBA fans. Columnists are lauding away, other columnists are warning us not to laud away, and it all seems a bit worrying.
Because while I want to believe in the Kevin Durant that I've seen, the one who knocked in jaw-dropper after jaw-dropper in the world championships last month, I just wonder if we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. Or, more specifically, if Kevin Durant has gotten a little ahead of himself. I mean, he can't be this good, can he?
And this is why this column disappoints. This is why I haven't published anything on Durant this summer. Because when I can't anticipate, I shrug and walk away. I'm not good with overheated pronouncements on either end of the prediction spectrum. I can just go with what I've seen, and guided by scattered bits of middling intelligence and quite a bit of NBA experience, tell you what I think is coming next.
And with Kevin Durant? I have no idea what's coming next. That's why I dig him.
Because a month after turning 21, he led a team that shouldn't have had a shot at .500 ball to 50 wins last season in one of the more competitive conferences in NBA history. He dropped 30 a game last year, while hitting 47 percent of his shots, and those numbers just don't happen for a perimeter player in today's D-crazed NBA.
And he's 21, turns 22 in a week. And because players don't tend to flatten out after they hit 22, how is this even going to work?
If this is where he's at 21, what will 2018 look like? What will he be doing in his prime? How are we even supposed to consider his potential, in any meaningful way? I could not care less about the Twitter-bred humility behind it all -- because the Bad Taste-O-Meter has been blown to bits by LeBron and his followers, Durant could drape himself in busy t-shirts, Jay Leno appearances and NRA badges while still coming off smelling like a rose -- but what I do care about is what Durant could do to the game that I'd like to think I have a handle on.
And, because I'm an inveterate worrier, I wonder if this is all too much, too soon.
Not that he's going to freak out and hire a film crew to document him keeping his toenail clippings in Tupperware, but that the type of NBA followers who tend to follow other sports with a bit more interest might overrate his chances of dropping, say, 42 a game. And leading that Thunder team past the Lakers anytime soon.
Yes, he averaged 30 a game at age 21 in a rather efficient style. And, yes, the Thunder were a defensive rebound away from forcing the Lakers to an anything-can-happen Game 7 last spring. But that doesn't promise anything, especially with a Thunder organization that is (smartly) going about this (still rebuilding) process with a patient and knowing strut. All it does is tell us that 2009-10, both for Durant and the Thunder, was a fantastic season. Nothing of any substance is promised beyond that.
A downer? No doubt. But that doesn't mean anything should be wiped from your big slate of hopes and dreams. All it means is expectations should still be juggled rather than relied upon. This cat could manage 33 a game and the Thunder could win 60 on their way toward the third round or beyond next season. It's all in them. But we have to go slow.
Because the last thing we want to be is disappointed in Kevin Durant, solely because our giddy hopes got way, way out of hand.
Again, this doesn't preclude Kevin or the Thunder from anything. Nor am I telling you to expect a bounce-back (as in, "fall down") season from Kevin or the Thunder. I'm just telling you to keep an open mind in the face of whatever the hell is happening with this monster. This absolute monster.
Bear in mind, I get the giddy. It's OK to be excited at his prospects. It's OK for the Thunder to be everyone's second-favorite team.
I understand that through the Kobe and Shaq nonsense, or with the brawl in Auburn Hills, that the NBA has had its downs since Michael Jordan retired from -- how should we put it? -- relevance. But the real low point was that lockout season in 1998, when the owners told the players to stuff it and gave us a truncated 50-game season of terrible, terrible basketball. It was a low point.
The idea behind Kevin Garnett(notes), though, was not. All at once, as that smallish season started getting closer and closer in the winter of 1999, people starting realizing that this guy hadn't even turned 23 yet. That he'd been in the playoffs twice and was about to start a season with what we were told was his best mate at point guard, a player in Stephon Marbury(notes) who seemed to have all the promise in the world. On top of that, in a world with no blogs save for mine, rumors abounded that K.G. actually grew an inch during the extended offseason. Man, this was going to be good.
Now, I don't want you to equate Durant's current context with how Garnett's career went from there. That would be bananacakes, defined. But do understand that, in light of what could be a pretty special thing -- LeBron, Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) teaming up to form what could be the most amazing thing this league has ever seen -- being handled completely inappropriately, the NBA is at a low point. I've made a career out of telling you that the league is better off than you think it is, and I'm telling you that this is bad, bad stuff. Completely redeemable once the ball goes up, but bad stuff nevertheless.
And yet whenever I sidle up late on a Saturday night, I'm asked about Kevin Durant. Sure, LeBron and his mates come up, but this kid from a town that people still have a hard time relating to as an NBA burgh is on the tip of everyone's tongue. And even with his televised exposure in Texas and in Seattle's last season and during Oklahoma City's 2009-10 run, there are a lot of giddy people who have only seen Kevin play, what, 15 times?
He's not all that's right with the NBA. He's not a shining beacon to follow to shore. But he is something special. And he's worth being giddy about. Don't ever lose those sorts of good shudders, the ones that get you doing the pogo just thinking about next fall. And, possibly, next summer.
Just keep an eye on the sky with this guy and prepare for anything. It might take a while, but it'll be worth it.