Kevin Durant on his fiancée, loneliness and loyalty

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The countdown to Kevin Durant’s free agency in 2016 begun long ago, the Thunder and Wizards clearly occupying the role of frontrunners.

Where will he sign?

These excerpts from Zach Baron of GQ clearly show why Durant will stay with the Thunder:

Take the conversation we’re having right now. Two guys on stools in a coffee shop talking about girls. His heart still not quite right after hurting someone he loved. “I had a fiancée, but…I really didn’t know how to, like, love her, you know what I’m saying? We just went our separate ways.” Monica Wright, WNBA player, something like a high school sweetheart. One night Kevin got so full of feelings he just up and proposed to her. “We was just hanging out, chilling. And I felt the energy. I felt, I need to do this right now. And I just did it. I was like…We’re engaged right now? We’re about to get married? So I was just like, cool! I love this girl. But I didn’t love her the right way.”

Outside this coffee shop, there are multiple millions of people representing multiple millions of dollars—shoe companies, league executives, agents, little kids with big KD posters on their walls—with opinions on what he should and should not be saying at this particular moment. A whole universe bending to be like: Talk about your will to succeed. Your work in the community. How you know what it takes to win.

But what he wants to say right now is this: “I go to sleep at night, like, ‘Am I gonna be alone forever?’ ” A whole ocean of regret. His life too hectic, and too surrounded by money, to trust, let alone love, the next person who comes through that door.

“Am I gonna be alone forever? Am I gonna have kids?”

And why would D.C. be the promised land, anyway? He was so lonely there. Mom just 21 when she had Kevin. Dad lived in the neighborhood but not there. “I remember we were driving home one day, and I look over out the backseat, and I see him in a car with his homeboys at the light. I wanted to be like, ‘Ma, that’s Dad, right?’ ” But he didn’t say anything. Mom didn’t want to talk about it. Her son tall, shy, good at ball but lost away from the court. “I had no friends at 12 years old, 13 years old.”

Except these excerpts from Baron clearly show why Durant will sign with the Wizards:

He heard the Sterling tapes like everyone else. “When that came out, we was just like, ‘Oh, so that’s how they feel about us?’ ” All this rhetoric about team, about loyalty. And then guys like Sterling basically acting in private like their players are property. “When players do stuff that benefits them, they’re looked at as unloyal, selfish,” Durant says. “But when a team decides to go the other way and cut a player, or not bring him back or not re-sign him, it’s what’s best for the team, and that’s cool. But what we do is frowned upon, you know?”

Don’t forget, Kevin Durant was not selfish: He signed a full extension in 2010, no opt-outs. He remembers that, even if no one else does, even as he anticipates the lurking storm of recrimination that awaits him if he doesn’t re-up again. “I was loyal. If it comes down to that, I mean: I was. My deal’s up in 2016. I’ll have been here nine years. I could have easily wanted out. I could have easily not signed the extension after my rookie contract. I could have not played as hard every night. But people tend to forget.”

Has the team ever really given Durant what he needs to win? Durant has been asked this question so many times he may not realize that he’s begun answering it honestly. “Players are paid to do their jobs, no matter who’s on the court. And as superstars, you gotta lead what you have. You gotta make them better. Some players might be better than others. Some teams might be better than others. You gotta do your job, and you gotta trust that the front office is going to do their job. It’s hard, though. You know what I’m saying? Because it’s like, shit, I want win. Obviously our players aren’t as good as, you know, than they were before. But you have to figure it out.”

They’re part of a longer article about Durant coming into his own in front of our eyes. It’s well worth a read.

In the piece, Durant expresses some frustration about how we view him – frustration that came out in his recent bashing of the media. One example: Durant didn’t appreciate his genuine “You the real MVP” moment with his mother being turned into a silly meme.

And I get that. I’m sure that’s not pleasant for Durant.

But outsiders see him as a basketball player first and a human-being second, if at all. That’s why I can’t help but look for fee-agency tea leaves while the article.

Durant is a human being, though. This article is a decent look into his humanity and a good reminder it even exists.

Re-read those excerpts above – not with an eye on free agency, but thinking of Durant as a person. Jump right back to commodifying him afterward if you wish, but at least you’ll have a little more perspective before you do.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
Photo courtesy College Park Skyhawks
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley calls for NBA to put more politics into sports

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley
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Americans are increasingly inviting progressive politics into sports. Football players kneeling the national anthem are no longer an easy target. Even President Donald Trump has softened his tone on Colin Kaepernick.

So, some Republicans are pushing for MORE politics – their politics – in sports (sometimes under the guise of less politics in sports).

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, like Tennessee U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, has criticized the NBA for its relationship with China. It’s grandstanding while the United States itself has a trade deal with China.

Now, Hawley is objecting to the NBA’s pre-approved list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys.

Hawley press release:

Today Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is sending a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blasting the league’s apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Senator Hawley writes that, as the NBA is now sanctioning political messages, they must stand up for American values and make clear where they stand on China’s human rights abuses.

Senator Hawley writes, “The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor – much like the censorship decisions of the CCP – are themselves statements about your association’s values. If I am right – if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation – your fans deserve to know that is your view. If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write ‘Back the Blue’ on their jerseys. Or ‘Support our Troops.’ Maybe ‘God Bless America.’ What could be more American than that?”

OF COURSE the NBA was going to limit jersey messages to a pre-approved list. The league doesn’t want the pressure of censoring players’ individual choices. Nor does the league want to condone messages that would offend offend customers and jeopardize revenue. Support for Hong Kong protesters would definitely qualify as financially perilous.

The NBA – a business trying to make money – wants to support its employees and appeal to its audience. These relatively benign phrases accomplish those goals.

That doesn’t prevent NBA players from criticizing China. I take NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his word (especially after the Daryl Morey controversy) that the NBA endorses its employees right to speak out.

The NBA just isn’t going to allow players to give just any message through their jerseys.

Some players are understandably bothered by that limitation. But the biggest pushes for change aren’t going to come through multi-billion-dollar corporations. That’s just reality.

Likewise, though Hawley raises legitimate concerns about China’s treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, scolding an American company for legally acting in its best financial interest is… um… certainly a choice for a U.S. Senator.

Also, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski sent a profane two-word response in response to Hawley’s press release.

Wojnarowski:

NBA executive predicts every team will lose money next season

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The NBA is launching an unprecedented and ambitious operation – hosting the rest of its season in a centralized location with frequent testing – because that’s what’s necessary to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What about next season?

Coronavirus will likely remain a danger on Dec. 1, when the league hopes to begin. That threatens fan attendance. Heck, that could undermine teams playing at all in their home markets. All 30 teams, rather than just 22, adds complications.

Even if the season gets off the ground, there will be financial issues.

Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“The truth is, things are changing so fast that, when it comes to next season, the best we can do is put a stake in the ground and make a guess,” an Eastern Conference team president said. “The reality is nobody is probably going to operate in the black next season.

“The only question is how much each of us are going to lose.”

NBA owners love to cry poor. The actual math often reveals a different picture. There are complexities that teams can hide.

Some teams have already cut employees salaries. But some teams are also doing extravagant things like shipping their courts to Disney World for practice:

Still, NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated 40% of league revenue comes from ticket sales and other game-day sources. If teams are ever believable about losing money, it’d be now. Coronavirus has wrecked so many sectors of the economy.

Revenue falling significantly would be felt by players, who – per the Collective Bargaining Agreement – receive about half of Basketball Related Income. (That 50-50 agreement supersedes players’ stated salaries in their contracts.)

It’s undecided how and when players would suffer those losses.

The 2020-21 salary cap could be reduced. But that would put the burden on players – free agents, draft picks – signing new contracts next offseason.

That’s why the salary cap is reportedly expected to remain roughly flat. There are a couple options within that scenario.

Players could have a larger share of their salaries withheld (as they’re doing this season). Then, at the end of the season, owners would return whatever money is necessary to reach the 50-50 split. However, that would reduce players’ spending power during the season.

Or players could collect their usual salaries with an artificially high salary cap. However, that would likely mean they get more than their entitled 50% share and the salary cap would be reduce in future seasons to offset. Current players – some of whom won’t be in the league in future years – would probably love that. Owners likely wouldn’t accept paying players more sooner.

Increased withholding from player salaries is probably the best option. But there’s plenty to decide about the exact withholding amount and how long the money is held. To ensure enough money is withheld, the percentage should initially be fairly high. Then, as the revenue picture becomes clearer, the withholding amount could decrease in future paychecks.

Of course, that assumes the league finds a safe way to play. Which is the biggest challenge.

Report: Wizards’ Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II test positive for coronavirus

Wizards players Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II
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Bradley Beal not playing sunk the Wizards’ for the NBA’s resumption, anyway.

If that and Davis Bertans sitting out weren’t enough, Washington is also without Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II and Garrison Mathews.

Ava Wallace of The Washington Post:

The NBA announced 25 players tested positive from June 23-29. It’s unclear whether Bryant and Payton were among that group or additional positive cases.

It’s also unclear whether Bryant, Payton and Mathews will join the team at Disney World.

Bryant would be a particularly significant loss. His optimism and energy in tough situations are exactly what the Wizards need right now.

With the Nets severely shorthanded and the Magic looking uninspiring, Washington still has a path to the playoffs.