So Kevin Durant’s working out with LeBron again this summer. Naturally, some are going to make a deal out that, because of what took place in the NBA Finals. And by some, I mean Skip Bayless who had some very strong words for KD about it.
“I say once again, Kevin Durant, congratulations you are owned by LeBron James,” Bayless said. “Have fun in next year’s NBA Finals finishing second again.”
Not surprisingly, that test of manhood wasn’t overlooked by KD who responded to Bayless via Twitter:
Of course this isn’t the first time Durant has scuffled with Bayless, as KD defended Russell Westbrook last season from Bayless’s constant criticism of the OKC point man.
Bayless said that part of the reason the Heat won in five games over the Thunder was because OKC couldn’t get in LeBron’s head. He said that because Durant respects his “best bud” LeBron so much he played him differently.
“LeBron James was able to operate knowing that not only would Kevin Durant not talk trash to him, he wouldn’t get physical with him, he wouldn’t incite any fights or pushing matches with him, that he would just let LeBron do what LeBron does best: attack the basket.”
Now, a few things about that mindset: Primarily, KD didn’t actually defend LeBron all that much in the Finals. Because of foul trouble and concerns of foul trouble, the Thunder used Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden mostly on LeBron while Durant defended Shane Battier or Mario Chamlers.
Secondly, one team tried Bayless’s philosophy last postseason with LeBron and it failed spectacularly. The Pacers attempted to rough up LeBron, tried to push him, grab him, talk trash and gesture at him (Lance Stephenson with the choke sign), tried to incite fights (Danny Granger, especially). It didn’t work. LeBron was magical in that series leading the Heat back from a 2-1 deficit despite Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade battling injuries.
And like Stephen A. Smith wisely pointed out, it’s not like KD wilted on the biggest stage of his NBA career. In the Finals, Durant averaged 30.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 54.8 percent from the floor. If anything, playing LeBron brought out the very best in KD, as his game rose to another level.
But what of the argument that Durant shouldn’t be training with his closest competitor and seemingly sworn enemy and rival? Should he really be buddy-buddy with LeBron after losing to him in the Finals just months earlier?
I’d certainly agree that the idea of LeBron and KD working out together is uncomfortable. Because we as fans have this idea that the only friends you’re allowed to have are the ones wearing the same color shirt as you. There’s a life outside the lines though. These guys aren’t programmed robots that swear loyalty to only their team and teammates. There’s no blood oath in basketball. On the floor? Yes, absolutely. Off it though, it’s another world.
Just because you’re friends doesn’t mean you’re going to play with any less heart or desire against the other guy. If anything, when I’m playing one of my friends in something whether it’s ping-pong, fantasy football or golf, I want to beat them more. Because friends don’t let you forget. If KD softened up because LeBron’s his pal, then there’s no way Durant would’ve made it this far. KD’s an incredibly fierce and passionate competitor and a guy that backs down from no one. Durant’s been friends with guys like Ty Lawson, Michael Beasley and others for a long time. And he’s never backed down from them.
Like I said, I can understand a Thunder fan’s trepidation of this. On the surface, it just kind of feels gross. But don’t forget, Russell Westbrook trains with Derrick Rose in the offseason. James Harden works out with other players. KD and LeBron are seen differently because they’re supposed to be the next big NBA rivals. I guarantee you just because KD runs some lines with LeBron or does a shooting drill with him doesn’t make him want to beat his brains out any less. Durant has a one track mind of improvement and wouldn’t be doing anything that stunts that. And if training with LeBron gives him any kind of edge or opportunity to get better, then it only makes sense, right?
KD’s a grown man. He makes his own decisions. He knows himself better than any sportswriter, any analyst, any talking head. He knows what he’s doing. The only player I wouldn’t want him training with is Andray Blatche, because I wouldn’t want KD to actually get worse at basketball.