Kevin Durant, flawed and perfect


kevin_durant_team_usa.jpgKevin Durant has yet to disappoint. He had a fantastic rookie year, has grown in each of his three seasons in the NBA, and emerged as one of the top players in the game. KD’s also riding a hell of a PR typhoon after the tectonic shift known as The Decision changed, well, everything. LeBron James’ hubris has cut him down from favored status, and in his place now stands Durant, the do-no-wrong king of the upstart Thunder and most recently, medaled national hero.

Not that KD has surpassed LeBron on the court. Whether that’s even a possibility is still to be determined, but at present, no NBAer’s star is more likely to supernova. Durant is that good, and right now he’s sitting on top of the basketball universe.

Unfortunately, that leaves Durant with an awfully long way to fall.

Even if KD’s game is only getting better and better, it’s possible that this is the best it gets for Durant’s image. He’ll win some, he’ll lose some. He’ll fall short of some expectations and shatter others. Yet the longer Durant stays in the NBA, the more time the now-adoring public will have to pick him apart. Even the great ones have their flaws, and in case those flaws aren’t flammable enough on their own, the sports sphere is never short on gasoline.

Durant is the type of talent and person that should be enjoyed. He deserves to be praised, and it’s not surprising that NBA fans have latched on to him as they have. He’s also exactly what he’s pegged as being: just a normal guy.

KD isn’t a megalomaniac, but he’s also mortal, even if his game hints otherwise. The limits and quirks that make Durant so endearing are the same ones that will eventually tarnish him, just as they did with LeBron, and for that matter, with just about every other prominent star that ever laced ’em up. We love NBA players for their flaws, even if with Durant, we haven’t quite realized it yet.

His range is unbelievable, but sometimes he leans too heavily on his jumper as a result. He’s confident in his own abilities, but sometimes tries to do just a bit too much. He’s neck-deep in the game he loves, but maybe that makes him just a bit detached.

Can KD drop 40 with a flick of his wrist? Surely. Is his work ethic so intense that he refuses a proper vacation? Certainly. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been down this road before, with other remarkable men and remarkable athletes. The lesson in all of this isn’t that Durant is spectacularly flawed, even if he ends up being so. It’s not even that the ever-present disconnect between fan and athlete (or media and athlete, for that matter) precludes us from ever really knowing players like Durant.

The takeaway is that the fall is a part of the game (not the game, but the game), and the flaws spotlighted in the process are typically par for the professional athlete course — bloated egos, the obsessive need to control, etc. However, when the beams dim a bit and the glare disappears, we find comfort in those same traits under gentler light. If I can shift metaphors from the stage to the screen: those flaws that endure, through the ups and the downs, put the stars of the NBA in vivid technicolor.

Durant is brilliant, but only because his flaws make him so. Perfection is boring. Limits are everything, even if they exist solely to be bent and broken, set and reset.

Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.

Stan Van Gundy calls out Andre Drummond’s effort after loss to Thunder

Andre Drummond
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After a promising start to the season, the Pistons have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last 10. And although he’s been outstanding for most of the season, Andre Drummond has not been above receiving criticism from Stan Van Gundy. The coach called out Drummond’s effort on Friday night after a loss to the Thunder.

Via Sportando:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight,” Van Gundy said of the two beatings the Pistons received this week. “Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

Calling out your best player in the media is bold, but Van Gundy has enough of a track record and a reputation, going back to his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, that he can get away with it. It also sends a message to the entire team that Van Gundy isn’t going to hold his star to a different standard than the rest of the team.

Despite a couple of poor performances, Drummond is having a career year, leading the league in rebounding at 17.1 per game while also averaging 17.9 points.