Kevin Durant has enjoyed the quietest walk year in NBA history. His impending free agency has been buried by other league topics, to the point where he has relished the anonymity. The former MVP has offered no hint as to his next team, and speculation about his destination has been rather useless.
Durant could return to Oklahoma City on a long-term deal, pledging his faith and dedication to what has been his only NBA team. He could sign a one-year extension, play that season with teammate and buddy Russell Westbrook, and then determine his long-term future. He could return to his native Washington and play for the Wizards, catapulting that club to championship-contender status.
Durant could sign with the Lakers and replace Kobe Bryant as Showtime’s next superstar. He could sign with the Warriors to form one of greatest scoring combinations — with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry — in NBA history.
Or . . .
Yes, Durant has many options, and at age 27, his decision will be pivotal, considering he could garner the biggest contract in NBA history.
“I’ve never been through this before,” said Durant, who has shown he is completely recovered from foot surgery that caused him to miss significant time last season. “It’s hard to know what’s going to happen. You hear a lot, but I don’t want to seek anyone out.
“Everybody’s going to ask me, so of course I’m going to have to think about it now. To tell you one thing, it’s great to feel wanted, I guess.”
Durant, who played one year at Texas before becoming the second overall pick in the 2007 Draft, said he has been humbled by the attention and adulation.
“What you want as a player is for everybody to respect you and admire how you play basketball,” he said, “but at the same time, man, my focus is on being the best player I could be for my teammates.
“I’ve got a lot of responsibility as kind of like the big brother and leader of our team, and that takes a lot of focus anyway. It’s tough, but it’s also cool knowing you’re at an elite level and everybody is talking about your future, and that’s cool for me.
“It’s easy to put pressure on yourself when everybody is calling you a franchise player and you get paid like one. But just trusting in the work I put in every day and everything will work out. It sounds cliché, but I just try to put my faith in my hard work and everything else will follow after that.”
Durant is fully aware that the Wizards have worked on their salary cap for years to create space to chase him this summer.
“I’m always going to be a part of that [community] — that’s who made me who I am,” he said. “I walked those streets. I took that subway down to the MCI Center to watch the Wizards play. That’s where I honed my skills. That’s where I became a man.
“I always appreciate the support. They have a great team there with a lot of great young players and they’re right in front of you.”
So what is important to Durant in terms of a free agent destination?
“When you get an opportunity to choose your environment, you want to be stable, you always want to have good people around you, and you always want to work with great people,” he said. “And that’s how it is in Oklahoma City. Just great people, great working environment, great living.
“Sometimes with your spirit and your energy, you can dictate your environment for yourself, and I think I have that ability to improve wherever I go.
“So every day I went into the arena, I know I have an effect on my teammates and everybody who works for the Thunder. Just knowing you have that is a great tool.”
Durant has aspirations of being a general manager. He made a key distinction that he doesn’t believe franchise-caliber players should have a major influence on personnel decisions, but he would like to be approached about such calls.
“I think it should be a healthy conversation,” Durant said. “I wouldn’t say a player should have authority to make decisions like that. We play the game, that’s what we’re supposed to do, and those guys get paid to do their jobs. You have to trust them.
“I’m just thinking that’s what I want to be when I’m done playing, is a front office guy, and I definitely have conversations with my best players and my coaches, just to kind of feel things out and make a decision on my own.
“That what we did in Oklahoma City. Sam Presti, we have a great relationship, but I don’t make decisions and I trust him in whatever decision that he makes. He trusts me as a basketball player.
“Just putting a team together, man, and playing the game and knowing this NBA life and what it takes to put together a good team. That would be fun to do. Of course, it’s a lot more work than what I’m thinking about right now, but from the outside looking in, it looks like a fun job, managing money and putting together a great team, chemistry-wise and basketball-wise. That would be fun.”
Archibald likes Thomas’s game
Isaiah Thomas, with his ascension to one of the best guards in the NBA, is drawing comparisons to some of the game’s great little men, including former Celtic and Hall of Famer Nate Archibald, with whom he has developed a bond.
The two began talking basketball when they were signing autographs at a sports collectible show.
“Me and him talked, and we weren’t really talking about the size thing,” Archibald said. “We know he can play. He came from another team out West [Phoenix], could score and do all those things, but the transition is learning a new coach and new players.
“I watched him play, and there are only certain guys I watch play, and he didn’t miss a beat. You’re coming off the bench and he’s a spark plug.”
Archibald said the transition to Boston and playing a bigger role flawlessly is what impressed him about Thomas, who did not start after being acquired from the Suns in February 2015. Thomas even came off the bench early this season before coach Brad Stevens made changes to boost the offense.
“No matter when you play, it’s about how many minutes you play and who finishes the game,” said Archibald. “I think he made that adjustment. We talked a couple of times and he said, ‘How did you feel coming off the bench?’ I was relegated to the bench a couple of times and it didn’t make me feel good.
“The responsibility is on you, man. You can’t rely on anybody. Whoever you play for, your attitude has to be damn near perfect, and I think he made that adjustment. You’re talking about a guy who felt in his heart that he was going to be a starter and is on the All-Star team. I think that’s an honor in itself.
“It’s a tribute to him working hard and doing the right thing.”
Archibald doesn’t believe size is a deterrent to Thomas achieving greatness in the NBA.
“Part of the game now is you don’t have many power players anymore,” he said. “I think the advantage is the speed and quickness, and you see that with bigger players, speed and quickness.
“Bigger guys are now shooting. You’re talking about looking at the eras, a guy 6-foot-10, 6-11 back in the ’50s and ’60s, he was a center. He didn’t shoot no threes.
“But now you’ve got multiple talented players who shoot all over the court. [Thomas] is a versatile guy, he can go in, he can shoot out. People always harp about defense; the only time you have to really concern yourself with defense is when I play against you in the playoffs and we’re playing the best four out of seven.”
Harden targeted — a bit unfairly?
James Harden has gotten a reputation around the NBA as a ball-stopping shotaholic who cares only about his personal numbers. Not so long ago, he was considered one of the game’s rising stars after he was acquired by Houston from Oklahoma City just before the 2012-13 season.
While Harden has become one of the game’s more prolific scorers, the Rockets have endured constant struggles and roster issues. Harden has taken the blame for most of the troubles, because he is the franchise player.
How much responsibility he bears is up for debate, but Harden believes the Rockets are still capable of accomplishing great things, despite the firing of coach Kevin McHale and the unhappiness of Dwight Howard.
“We have more than potential,” he said. “We’re really good. We just have been inconsistent, so we’ve got to find some consistency, find our identity, and we’ll be all right.”
General manager Daryl Morey believed Houston would be a perennial Western Conference contender with the addition of Howard in 2013 to Harden and other components such as Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverly.
Instead, the team has been beset with dysfunction, with McHale getting fired after a November blowout loss to the Celtics, and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff on an interim basis. There have been accusations that Harden and Howard pleaded with management to have the other traded.
The Rockets put Howard on the trade market but couldn’t find a deal that would bring back enough assets. The Celtics had initial interest but wanted a commitment that Howard, who can opt out of his contract this summer, would return on a new deal. He wants to be a free agent.
With Howard likely in his final days as a Rocket, Houston remains in the Western Conference playoff race, as they, the Mavericks, the Jazz, and the Trail Blazers compete for the final three spots.
“That’s basically what it is,” Harden said. “Getting on the same page and all having the same goal, and that’s to win.
“Once we figure that out, we’ll be OK.”
Harden impresses with his array of offensive skills, and he is the league’s best at getting to the free throw line. But the next step, as it is for his former Oklahoma City teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, is proving that he can achieve great personal success but also win.
LeBron James finally reached the ultimate team accomplishment with the Heat, and Stephen Curry could be racing to a second consecutive NBA title with the Warriors. But Harden is at the center of a chaotic situation in Houston. He feels he’s been unfairly criticized.
“All the time,” he said, “but I don’t really pay attention to it. I can’t focus on negativity because that drains you. I focus on what I can do, what I can control, and go out there and just compete at a high level.”
Harden made it clear he does not play to make friends. While some of his NBA counterparts have been accused of being too chummy, especially during games, Harden enjoys slicing up defenders and backing it up with bravado. Perhaps it’s part of what has made him one of the league’s more controversial players.
“I like the competitive nature,” he said. “You’re right, it’s a lot more friendly. I don’t really feed into that. When I’m on the court, no matter if you’re my childhood friend, I’m going to compete and I’m going to try to win and do whatever it takes to win. That’s what I focus on.”
Harden doesn’t receive enough credit for his meteoric rise after starting just seven games and averaging less than 13 points in three seasons with the Thunder. He has established himself not only as a mainstay but as one of the top five players in the game.
“To be honest, I just work my butt off and put myself in the best situation that I could,” he said. “When you work hard and focus on things you can control, positive things happen. But when you get distracted and start worry about things that’s out of your hands, then nothing really good happens.”
In back-to-back games last week, Harden totaled 88 points, including a 46-point performance in a key comeback win at Portland. The Rockets could finish as high as fifth in the West; a sixth-place finish would likely create an intriguing first-round playoff matchup with Harden’s former team, the Thunder.
Celtics no longer had a spot for Lee
The Celtics’ waiving of David Lee came as no surprise when it happened last week, but the fact that they parted ways with him after 55 games was rather stunning. Lee was playing point forward in the Celtics’ preseason games overseas and appeared to be a major asset in their playoff run. But a few things happened. The Celtics decided to play small, and Lee had trouble defending centers and finishing at the rim. In one of his final games as a Celtic, a Jan. 10 loss to the Grizzlies, he missed 10 of 12 shots, all at close range. And since he does not have the 3-point range to stretch the floor or the size to play center, he was expendable. Also, the emergence of Kelly Olynyk made Lee virtually obsolete, because the third-year Canadian can play both forward and center, and his shooting allowed the Celtics to stretch the floor. Since Lee was nothing near an elite defender either, he was no longer considered an asset. With the Mavericks having Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee, Lee can return to his power forward role for Dallas.
Brandon Jennings is serving as the backup to Elfrid Payton in Orlando, and if the free-agent-to-be plays well enough, he could keep the attention of the Magic, who plan to invest their money in a major free agent this summer. They moved Tobias Harris and the $16 million he’s owed each of the next three years to Detroit to clear more cap space . . . A handful of players could be available to sign with NBA teams when their season with the Chinese Basketball Association has ended, including former NBA players Michael Beasley, Dorell Wright, Jordan Crawford, and MarShon Brooks . . . After being released by the Celtics in the summer and then again by the Trail Blazers (in October) and the Sixers (in December), Phil Pressey was picked up by the point-guard-thin Suns on a 10-day contract. Pressey was released in Portland in favor of ex-Celtics training camp invitee Tim Frazier, who was subsequently waived to make room for Brian Roberts. Pressey is now likely playing for a summer league invite or nonguaranteed contract next season.
Pelicans standout Anthony Davis put in a performance to remember on Feb. 21, totaling 59 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Pistons. He became just the third player since 1983-84 to record at least 50 points and 20 rebounds in a game. Here’s a comparison of the performances: