So, this Kevin Durant-Kawhi Leonard thing.
First, Durant responded to a tweet saying Leonard was better than Paul George, saying “you trippin bro.” Durant was then asked if he thought Leonard would be doing the same thing in Indiana.
“No. He doing work like this because of the system. Put Paul George on the Spurs and what would happen?”
A lot of people have seen this as shade, or even slander. Leonard was on his way to winning Finals MVP that night, putting up three consecutive incredible performances. Durant deleted the tweets, but it became A Thing with radio shows and talking heads everywhere hammering on it.
So Durant clarified his tweets with a Facebook post (since deleted) on Tuesday:
“This the last time I’m gonna talk about this. I did not hate on Kawhi Leonard, quite honestly if you knew me or been around me, you would see how excited I was for such a young humble guy. But the world loves conflict I see. I really gave major props to Coach Pop and the whole staff for putting those guys in great positions to be successful. I’ve realized you can’t say anything about a champion so if I hurt anybody’s feeling I apologize (I really don’t) but you get my drift.”
Let’s put aside the Leonard-or-George debate, because that’s kind of a waste of time, and look at the larger picture. What’s frustrating about this from Durant’s perspective is that we all crave transparency and honesty from professional athletes. Coachspeak and cliches are boring, but candidness is like gold.
Except for when a player actually does it. Because then everyone just lines up to get their own shots in. If you ever get frustrated with players not saying anything, this is why. Because why be honest about anything and set yourself up to become a target of talking heads looking for topics?
Durant is a huge fan of the NBA. He’s just like you and me. He loves to watch games, he loves to play 2K, he loves to discuss and argue and debate with his friends. He’s a 25-year-old guy that loves sports. Obviously he’s in a different kind of position than your standard fan, because when you say something dumb like Kyle Lowry is better than Chris Paul, you don’t have websites waiting to make a headline out of it. Your friends just call you an idiot.
Besides, the point Durant was making is actually pretty relevant. Tom Ziller of SB Nation wrote a great piece about how Kawhi Leonard is as responsible for Kawhi Leonard’s success as anyone else. But there is something to be said about what an organization and environment does to help cultivate that talent. I wrote about this a while ago, but David Thorpe has this great thing he calls “royal jelly” which is essentially that special something inside a player that makes him great regardless of where he is or the situation he’s in. LeBron, Durant, Kobe, Rose, Duncan, etc.
But sometimes, a team has to help with that royal jelly. I think Russell Westbrook is a good example. Say he was drafted by the Bucks and ended up in a losing, dysfunctional situation. He had a coach and front office that wasn’t sold on his position, and wasn’t patient enough to let him play through the hard parts. Westbrook’s work ethic is absurd, but he needed a safe, encouraging environment to explode the way he has. Otherwise, he might’ve become his own worst enemy.
I think some of that is applicable with Leonard and the Spurs. He stepped into a situation where he could let his skillset (defense) put him on the floor, while he developed the rest of his game with one of the best coaching staffs in the world. Compare Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to Leonard. Similar players, with similar skills. One was just named Finals MVP. The other a lot of people see as a bust. Leonard had his shot overhauled by shooting coach Chip Engelland, and now is a legit offensive threat. Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot still looks like a full body dry heave. What if their roles were reversed?
Basically all that happened here is that Durant got another lesson in just keeping to himself. Twitter is more of a problem for players than a help, especially for the ones like Durant who have a spotlight placed on everything they say. Some even went as far to slam Durant because he’s not allowed to talk about a champion like that when he hasn’t won anything. Which by that logic, means Charles Barkley shouldn’t have a job.
But here’s my suggestion for Durant: Go ahead and win a title — maybe even two or three for good measure — and just start saying whatever the hell you want.