With Kevin Durant's every shot, every move and even every facial expression being studied and dissected for clues as to whether it means he will stay with the Golden State Warriors or, as nearly everyone around the NBA seems to believe, leave for the Knicks, Durant has not seemed in any way distracted.
He has been, as he has arguably been for years, the best player in the game. He led the Warriors through the first round of the playoffs and has been a decisive part of the defending champions building a 2-0 lead over the Rockets, the team that some believed could end their reign.
And Durant, 30, who at times seems sensitive, has taken it all in stride.
“Yeah. I mean, once you realize it's just basketball, the pressure that a lot of these guys go through, when they realize how they came up, what their family has been through, this is no pressure to him,” Durant said earlier this week. “I saw a quote what Damian Lillard said. Perfect what he said. If you haven't seen it, go look at it. It was a long quote. But it summed it up perfectly what pressure means when you talk about NBA players. I think a lot of guys feel that way.
“But it's just fun being out there. What's the worst that can happen to either team? We both lose and we got another game. One team loses, we play another game. I think once everybody looks at it in more of a wider view of things, I don't think it's that much pressure.”
It was an interesting and mature take, and could provide as much of a scouting report for the Knicks as anything they see on the court. With a book coming out this week from Warriors writer Marcus Thompson II that studies Durant, how he got to this point in his life and what it could mean for his impending decision, there has been much discussion about what he will do — and why he would do it.
As folks seek to understand why he would leave the Warriors, leaving behind the best team of the last decade and a team with a good argument for being the best of all time, with a players' coach, a deep and talented team and even a new arena awaiting him next season — as well as leaving about $60 million on the table — one of the reasons has seemed to disappear.
It’s been speculated that he would like to be the No. 1 player on his team, and the Warriors will always be Steph Curry’s squad. But he certainly has looked like the star of the team in this postseason. And if it’s a legacy search, skipping out on the “easy” championships with Golden State and instead trying to be the one who finally leads the Knicks to a championship for the first time since 1973, well, there is a risk to that.
While talk this week hyped up the possibility of Carmelo Anthony returning to New York as a bit piece alongside Durant and Kyrie Irving after Anthony didn’t rule it out while watching an AAU event, the real contribution that Anthony could probably provide — and one the Knicks wouldn’t want whispered in Durant’s ear — is that a legacy can take a turn in the other direction in New York if you don’t get it done.
Thompson writes: “The Knicks for decades have been a magnet for dysfunction, which suggest they would have a hard time putting the pieces around Durant to win a title. Such a challenge might be appealing to Durant.’’ But he adds that though today’s players seek to be unofficial general managers, because of their struggles, “Durant taking the New York route would be atypical for the modern player, as the Knicks aren’t the most inspiring franchise.”
When the season came to an end last month, Knicks coach David Fizdale opined on what would make the Knicks an attractive destination despite the league-worst 17-65 record.
“It’s the Knicks,” Fizdale said. “Same way they got me. It’s the Knicks, man. I really feel like around the league and I really listen to people when they talk about us, I think people are really excited about the way we’re going about building this and the type of people we’re going to have in our building and the way that we work from a day-to-day basis. I think we’re sitting in a very opportunistic place.”
A win for Kanter
It’s not just his play on the court, although Enes Kanter has won over fans in Portland with his performance through the playoffs. Kanter played 56 minutes, clearly struggling with the pain of the separated shoulder that he has fought through, in the Blazers' 140-137 quadruple-overtime win over Denver on Friday night, and that was worth celebrating.
But he also won in a battle with his home country of Turkey and his very public battle with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After his Game 2 efforts, he noted on Twitter that he was included in the NBA.com recap tweet, but had been censored from the league’s Turkish incarnation, NBATurkiye, on Twitter. He has long spoken about games he plays in being blacked out in his home country, but he earned a minor victory in Friday’s win after the NBA Players Association put out a statement of support and the NBA intervened.
“Fans in Turkey can watch all playoff games featuring Enes Kanter, a former Knick, and the Portland Trail Blazers on NBA League Pass and NBA TV International,” NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum told the Associated Press. “The NBA Turkey Twitter account was managed by a local vendor and we are terminating that relationship.”
After Game 3, the Turkish Twitter account included his 18 points and 15 rebounds in the statistical highlights Friday night. Kanter responded overnight by retweeting it and adding, “Democracy Wins. Human Rights Wins. Freedom of speech Wins. Huge Thanks to @NBATurkiye for NOT censoring me.”