Kevin Durant participated in USA Basketball’s mini-camp in Las Vegas this summer, and was expected to not only compete in the FIBA World Cup, but also to be the leading scorer on a team loaded with offensive talent.
But Durant withdrew, which certainly came as a surprise.
“This was an extremely difficult decision as I take great pride in representing our country,” Durant said at the time, via press release. “I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience. After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them.”
Durant’s decision came after the injury to Paul George, and he remains in negotiations on a new lucrative sneaker deal — two very good reasons he might have decided not to risk anything, and to instead choose to sit this summer out.
Speaking on a panel in New York on Wednesday, however, Durant stuck to his original story.
From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Sitting at a panel Tuesday at Baruch College to promote basketball videogame NBA 2K15 — which features him on the cover — Durant reiterated that his decision to leave Team USA was based on rest and staying fresh for the upcoming NBA season. Durant attended the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, only to pull out before the exhibitions leading up to the FIBA World Cup in Spain next month. He announced his decision less than a week after Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage, but was not asked by the moderator Tuesday whether that played a role in his withdrawal. …
“It was definitely tough. But I think for myself it was best to step back and rest up,” Durant said. “You play a long 82-game season so I wanted to be smart and realize that I love USA Basketball, I love these guys, but I think it was best for me to step back and get rest and get ready for next season.”
Rest is part of the equation, certainly, but I believe it goes deeper than that. Here’s what I wrote about players of Durant’s status potentially choosing not to participate in the future in the wake of the injury to George:
“If players decide that saving their athletic abilities for achieving NBA success and pursuing the league’s championships are more important than representing their country in international competition, then George’s injury may indeed impact the choices we see the players make regarding USA Basketball, and how they now perceive its relative importance.”
Durant has scoring titles and an MVP on his resumé already, and the only thing missing is a championship to elevate him into the tier of the all-time greats. Saving himself to make a run at a title is indeed the most logical explanation for his choice.