But a third ring is not Durant’s primary motivation this season; rather, it’s to see how good a player he can be. A championship may flow out of that, but Durant was clear about what drives him in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. (Hat tip CBSSports.)
“I wasn’t expecting to be a happy human being from a title. I was just expecting like, you know, the ending of a movie — once you worked so hard and everybody tells you like, ‘Yo, this is what you need to be working for, is this gold ball and these rings.’ And I’m just like, ‘All right, cool, let me lock in on that.’ And I locked in on wanting to achieve that, but I also realized it’s a lot of stuff that factors in it that’s out of my control.
“And once I won a championship, I realized that, like, my view on this game is really about development. Like, how good can I be? It’s not about, you know, let’s go get this championship. I appreciate that stuff and I want to win to experience that stuff, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of why I play the game.”
This is a healthy mindset. We as a society tend to want our athletes to have an obsessive, Kobesque “winning is all that matters” mindset, but Durant has to focus on what motivates and drives him, not mimicking others. KD recognizes that a lot of winning a title is out of even a great player’s control — it takes some luck. Kobe was lucky to be drafted onto a Lakers team with Shaq and a lot of other veterans, he was lucky to stay largely healthy through the peak of his career, and he was lucky to have some breaks go his way. The same is true of Michael Jordan or Bill Russell or any NBA champion — nobody does it on their own. Durant can use player empowerment and recruiting to put him in better positions to win titles, but it still takes some luck.
Durant has played at an MVP level when healthy this season — 28.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists a game while shooting 44.3% from three — setting a new bar for returning from an Achilles injury. His focus on development and getting his body right has paid off, even if he missed some time this season.
Brooklyn is the betting favorite to win the title now (odds provided by our partner, PointsBet). Durant’s return and play is a part of that, but for KD this just all flows out of a focus on the game and the process, not the results.