Kevin Durant is one of the most scrutinized athletes ever. He was “Mr. Unreliable” when the Thunder couldn’t get over the hump, then he got criticized for going to a 73-win Warriors team in 2017, then he was lambasted when he left Golden State for Brooklyn. This summer, fans got in arrears because he wanted to move on from Brooklyn, and there was no simple answer why. This week the Brooklyn Nets announced that Durant would be staying with the team this season, ending the biggest saga of the offseason. The franchise announced that they’ve “agreed to move forward with our partnership” in a statement. For months, we knew that he wanted out, and we knew that he and the Nets appeared to reach an impasse as Brooklyn’s desired haul was more than what teams were currently offering for the all-time great. But we didn’t know exactly why he wanted out.
“What I will say is nobody knows what Kevin Durant is thinking right now,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently said on the channel’s Get Up program. “His communication with teammates and others in the league has been sparse. I don’t even think that the Nets have a 100 percent understanding of why Kevin asked for a trade. “ Other basketball analysts expressed similar, making his perceived indecision a prevailing narrative of the summer.
Reports had suggested that Durant wanted a new GM/Coach combination in place of Sean Marks and Steve Nash, respectively. Others speculated that “Kevin Durant wants to stay with Nets – without Kyrie Irving,” his friend and Nets co-star who’s only played 103 of a possible 236 games in Brooklyn. But there’s no way for anyone to say they know why Durant requested a trade without him telling them. Maybe he’ll tell us what his thought process was during an episode of The ETCs. Or maybe he won’t — and that’s just fine. We may never know, but one thing we do know is he’s gonna ball, and that’s all he’s contractually obligated to do.
Durant let the “sources say” circus run rampant all summer, but as soon as a report dropped speculating about him being more apt to retire than play in Brooklyn, he called cap, tweeting, “I know most people will believe unnamed sources over me but if it’s anyone out there that’ll listen, I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon. Shit is comical at this point.” His tone reflects the frustration of a man with little patience for the modern sports media, and the fans conditioned to it.
During a recent episode of The Ringer’s NBA show podcast, journalist Wosny Lambre psycho-analyzed that Kevin Durant’s ultimate basketball objective is to “do minimal work and get all the credit.” When it comes to work ethic, renowned basketball shooting coach Chris “Lethal Shooter” Matthews has recalled that Durant “works out to pure exhaustion. And continues to go HARDER towards the end of the workout.” Durant worked himself back to an MVP candidate from an achilles tear at 30 years old; minimal work is not a part of that equation.
And as far as wanting “all the credit,” another popular knock on Durant from many basketball fans is that he’s too willing to play on teams with other all-stars, where theoretically the “credit” would be spread around. Maybe we can get all his detractors in one Twitter space and ask them which one is it? How could he want all the credit when he signed with Golden State, a 73 team, and the teams that he was reportedly interested in joining (Phoenix, Miami, Boston, and Philadelphia) all have multiple all-star caliber players? Kevin Durant’s basketball life, like that of most athletes, defies the neat narratives that pundits and fans project upon players.
As entertaining and engrossing as modern sports banter can be, it’s worth acknowledging that it mostly revolves around journalists and fans projecting their own personal problems upon players. Take Jamarcus Russell, Kwame Brown, or other players deemed “busts,” who had upon them against their will, then spend the rest of their lives chiding them when they aren’t what we thought they were gonna be, as if they owe us anything. We get up in arms when James Harden says he has nothing to prove to us, as if his sole athletic obligation isn’t to the Philadelphia 76ers. He didn’t have his best playoff effort this year, and the Sixers didn’t meet their own championship expectations, but he hasn’t spent his summer going door to door apologizing for not proving whatever it is he’s supposed to prove, he’s simply getting ready for next year.
Elsewhere in The Ringer pod, Rob Mahoney noted, “we’re six or seven years into wondering straight up: what does Kevin Durant want?” Two things can be true. We can not know what his personal north star is, but it could also be completely irrelevant. While we may not be sure what he wants, we know what he does, wherever he’s been in the league: score a boat load of points on 50/40/90 percentages. And that should be all that matters.
During Durant’s 2020 sitdown with Draymond Green, he noted that he wasn’t interested in chasing the “fleeting feeling” of happiness. “I feel like having peace, and simply enjoying being alive everyday is the best place for me to be…I don’t wanna be happy or sad, I just wanna flow through life.” That mindset parallels with him saying on The Etcs that his desire to “keep the rhythm of the season” is why he has no urgency to switch up his routine for the playoffs. As he said, for him, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” He’s going with the flow, and sometimes that changes, but that doesn’t seem to appease sports fans who think there’s only one way to swim.
Durant’s publicly expressed truths may disappoint the fan who wants to hear him say he’s only happy when he’s winning championships, but that’s not his problem. The best place for him is within peace of mind, and that’s not tied to a singular place on the NBA map. When he joined the Warriors, the idea of playing winning basketball appealed to him. When he moved on to Brooklyn, he said he “just wanted to play ball and go to the crib and chill. And that’s what Brooklyn embodied.” And in the future peace of mind may mean something else somewhere else. That’s his prerogative. Whatever the case is, we can be sure that he’s going to ball out and be an MVP candidate as long as he’s on the court.
From a young age, sports fans are governed by archaic notions of loyalty that carry over from pre-free agency eras, where there were fewer teams, less money, and less opportunity overall. We deify one team stars in every sport as the model, ignoring the reality that these athletes stuck around with their teams because management gave them what they needed to be content. And in the rare moments in which athletes like Magic or Kobe didn’t feel secure with their team, they asked for trades too. Kobe’s trade demand somewhat parallels Durant’s as he was adamant about leaving L.A. in 2007, but ultimately came back when they couldn’t find a trade. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the beauty of a Kobe, Dirk Nowitzki, or Tim Duncan-type career, or a player who’s maniacally obsessed with winning, but their career path is their own. Romanticizing what they did shouldn’t extend into chastising players who don’t follow the same neat narrative.
As Draymond Green noted, “If Kevin Durant says, I actually don’t wanna be here anymore, I wanna go to somewhere else, why does it matter? Why does that make you weak?” We hold too often athletes to standards we don’t embody ourselves. The same journalists who criticize athletes for seeking trades constantly switch outlets. We move from coast to coast for a change of scenery. Our motivations change in our personal and professional lives. And even though we don’t tie our sense of self to what’s going on in our previous job, people decided to laugh at Durant when the Warriors won.
Athletes have their own sense of fulfillment, just like we do in our personal lives. There are people who would take on 60-hour-a-week jobs for a six-figure bag, and others who are content with just making a modest living if it means more free time. Neither is wrong, or less loyal, or should be forced to explain their choices. It’s time for us to have the same outlook when it comes to athletics. Let’s start with the Kevin Durant saga. People thought it would end with a blockbuster trade, but it looks like he’s going to return to Brooklyn and play out his contract through this year. Whatever would have happened, we can be assured he’s going to do his best on the court, which is all that matters.