Kevin Durant
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Kevin Durant’s growth as an NBA star has hit many twists and turns. The Brooklyn Nets represent his latest opportunity to reach nirvana.

Matt Brooks

I‘ve always loved Kevin Durant‘s attention to detail when it comes to the X’s and O’s of the game. In every sense of the word, KD is a basketball purist and flat out wants to hoop.

That unrequited love of the sport has fueled Durant’s most notorious flare-ups with the media. Back in February, when the New York Knicks rumors were in full force, Durant let it all out during a postgame press conference.

“I have nothing to do with the Knicks. I don’t know who traded (Kristaps) Porzingis. That got nothing to do with me. I’m trying to play basketball.”

“I’m trying to play basketball” really sat with me. While I, in no shape or form, understand the game at Durant’s level, today’s fascination with free agency, trade rumors and, really, anything but the product on the floor can be outright frustrating. Here’s my “old man on the porch” moment, but there are days when I wish we could turn off the NBA’s ongoing soap opera and just focus on the damn product on the floor.

Durant’s career thus far has been driven by a limitless pursuit of discovering basketball utopia. It’s what pushed him out of Oklahoma City’s unoriginal isolation-centric offense in the first place. Three years and two chips later, I’d say the Golden State experiment was more than worth it for the superstar forward. Playing next to a group of stars gave Durant room to evolve his game as a defender, passer, screener and off-ball savant.

Durant’s recent sitdown with the Wall Street Journal‘s J.R. Moehringer gave NBA fans, media members and talking heads a lot to unpack. One specific segment stood out to me right away.

When speaking on Steve Kerr’s Warrior offense, Durant fired off some pretty harsh words on Golden State’s sacred system.

“The motion offense we run in Golden State, it only works to a certain point. We can totally rely on our system for maybe the first two rounds. Then the next two rounds we’re going to have to mix in individual play. We’ve got to throw teams off, because they’re smarter in that round of playoffs.” Durant continued,”so now I have to dive into my bag, deep, to create stuff on my own, off the dribble, isos, pick-and-rolls, more so than let the offense create points for me.”

I agonized over this section. It put my mind in a tizzy. How could Durant rip the system he once described as “basketball nirvana” with such unapologetic vigor?

Making sense of Durant as a basketball player is fairly simple. He’s an all-world scorer, capable of launching jumpers in catch-and-shoot situations or off the dribble. He can also perform super-sized crossovers and drive to the rim with ease. On top of this, Durant is a high IQ player, who uses that acumen to make plays for teammates and position himself correctly as a defender.

Off the floor is a completely different story.

Fair or not, KD has been called “moody” and “mercurial” on countless occasions. He’s unapologetically himself and is an open book to those who ask the right questions — which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing. Many times, his unabashed persona can lead him into chastising fans and media members who throw dirt upon his name. Feel how you want about Durant as a person, but one thing is for certain: He’s got one of the most interesting, yet toughest to decipher personalities in all of sports.

To be honest, as someone who covers Durant’s new team, the Brooklyn Nets, reading his critical analysis of his former employer was initially tough to stomach. Prior to Moehringer’s article, Durant had never publically shown any resistance to Golden State’s style of play. And why would he? Even before Durant came along, the Warriors practically shattered the NBA with their ground-breaking free-flowing offense and revolutionary small-ball defense. They were and still are the pinnacle of organizational success.

For Durant, what suddenly changed? Was this an instance of Kevin’s moodiness? My mind was racing at this point. Could his volatile personality pierce Brooklyn’s golden culture?

Later in that same piece, while describing Durant’s pursuit of happiness, Moehringer stated that Durant “still tries earnestly, honestly to correct the record, give real answers, put the truth out there. He doesn’t measure his words, doesn’t care if he says it wrong or contradict himself.”

He doesn’t care if he contradicts himself. Like a hit record at a Jay-Z concert, this sentence played over and over in my brain. Its inclusion was odd, given the somewhat negative connotation.

Yet, the more I thought about this statement, the more I began to see his Warrior comments in a different light. In today’s day and age, opinions are wrongly viewed as rigid; “flip-flopping” on them is perceived as a sign of weakness. Entire brands (hello, Old Takes Exposed) are built upon ridiculing prominent figures for previous statements. Having a viewpoint in the first place is a risk in itself.

Durant’s unrelenting ability to not only voice his opinions but also fearlessly contradict himself is, in fact, what makes him so delightfully human. In many ways, growing up is the process of pivoting and repivoting on certain beliefs and preconceived notions. You are allowed to change your mind on things. In fact, you should be encouraged to. As a 25-year-old, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve altered my “truths” on certain subjects. And I can promise you, from now until my eventual passing, I’ll probably readjust those same “truths” time and time again.

Durant came to Golden State as a wide-eyed 28-year-old who wanted to hone his craft in a democratic offensive system and grow his businesses in a thriving Bay Area economy. Ideally, his pursuit of basketball nirvana should have ended there, with fat pockets and rings aplenty.

Yet, it didn’t. Three years later and Durant has once again uprooted his life to pursue new challenges as a member of a different franchise. On his way out, Durant voiced some pretty inflammatory comments about his former employer. Could he have phrased these statements differently? Sure, maybe. But that isn’t who KD is. Durant is a man who describes things as he sees them.

The idiosyncrasies that once made Golden State’s offense so special no longer held their luster for KD. Perhaps it was because of predictability, as Durant put it. Or maybe this was simply the admission of boredom from a superstar acting as just another cog in Golden State’s whirring wheel. There’s a chance that playing within the “perfect system” on an all-time stacked team was, in fact, anything but that — perfect — for Mr. Durant.

Brooklyn Nets

For Kevin, the latest path in his journey meant fighting stagnation in Golden State. So far, his ongoing escapade to seek out the ideal basketball situation has driven him to outperform his peers and advance his game in ways we’ve never seen. In a way, Durant’s failure to find satisfaction is the human strife in its essence. In the end, how many of us ever truly reach 100% fulfillment? Not many, and it’s what fuels ingenuity and progression within our species.

Kevin Durant should be appreciated, and not reprimanded, for looking to grow as a person and athlete. Rather than closing us off like many other stars, Durant is providing front-row seats to his never-ending voyage.

His latest destination on his path to greatness is here, in Brooklyn. As a member of head coach Kenny Atkinson‘s Nets, Durant will have a chance to revisit his roots, playing within a system that encourages pick-and-roll, a great deal of isolation, and improvisation. He’ll get the opportunity to showcase his generational one-on-one skillset that made him such an intriguing all-time hooper in the first place. Will his tenure in Brooklyn satiate his hunger to find salvation? Only time will tell.

As a Net, Kevin Durant chose No. 7 because it represents completion. For his sake, I hope he achieves that in Brooklyn.

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