"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. Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it.” – Kevin Durant
It’s probably safe to say that Kevin Durant is not feeling the media these days.
After not speaking with the media for more than a week, Durant decided that he had time following a game against the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 6. The Golden State Warriors’ superstar aired out his grievances against Ethan Strauss, sports columnist at The Atlantic, and sports writers in general.
“Let us play basketball,” Durant pled with the press. “That’s all I’m saying. Now when I don’t want to talk to y’all, it’s a problem with me. C’mon man. Grow up.”
Durant was upset at Strauss for an article he penned entitled, Silent star: On the presumed Warriors’ exit of Kevin Durant.
Strauss’ article noted the presumption by numerous “insiders” that Durant would bolt from the Warriors after the season via free agency. Many writers, sports personalities and fans have speculated that Durant may head East to join the New York Knicks. The rumor mill hit a boiling point after the Knicks dealt away Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks for Dennis Smith Jr. and a ton of cap space.
It is understandable why Durant would be unhappy with being linked to another team (especially one as terrible as the Knicks). After all, Durant is trying to lock-in and help the Warriors win a third-consecutive NBA championship, which is no small feat.
Every story, segment or headline is an opportunity to create friction inside the Warriors’ locker room. The whispers undoubtedly played a role in the blowup between Durant and teammate Draymond Green back in Nov.
Furthermore, before last Wednesday’s comments to the press, Durant had not addressed free agency rumors at all, much less stated, hinted or insinuated a desire to play for the Knicks. Every story that comes out connecting KD to NY is pure speculation. Whether it’s coming from Strauss’ unnamed sources or the talking heads on ESPN, it’s all due to guesswork – and Durant is to blame.
Last summer, Durant signed a two-year, $61.5M contract extension with the Warriors. However, the second year is a player option, meaning Durant can opt-out after the first year and become an unrestricted free-agent.
It’s similar to the deal he signed when he first joined the Warriors in 2016. Durant declined the second-year of that contract and signed another “1+1” deal in 2017.
Durant has several benefits by signing the short-term deals. His looming free agency status gives him tremendous leverage. If he is unhappy about the direction of the franchise, personnel decisions or the post-game spread at the Oracle Arena, he can bounce.
Perennial free agency puts pressure on the franchise to do whatever it takes to keep Durant happy. That a big reason why Green was suspended for his role in their aforementioned verbal altercation.
The short-term deals could also pay off for Durant’s bank account. If the NBA’s salary cap continues to increase, Durant could keep signing baby deals until the next big bump in the salary cap. Then he could cash in long-term at a significantly higher salary.
Drawbacks exist to the short deals too. Should he suffer a major, career-threatening injury, he won’t have that long-term, guaranteed money that longer contracts bring. At age 30 and in the prime of his career, injury risk isn’t yet at the top of mind for Durant.
The second drawback is the one that seems to have the two-time NBA MVP all riled up – incessant questions and speculation about free agency.
LeBron James received the same treatment when he was signing “1+1” deals with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ask Paul George how many questions he fielded about free agency and the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
Is anybody asking them those same questions now? No, because they signed four-year deals. They committed.
Kyrie Irving, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, is also getting daily questions about his future plans. It’s par for the course.
NBA players are able to command gargantuan salaries in large part due to the sport’s media coverage. TV deals, endorsements and partnerships are all driven by access to potential consumers that watch NBA games. More than any other major sport, the NBA grants amazing access to its players.
Every interview, news story, rumor, highlight or player impersonation video leads to more eyes on the game which translates to more money for the players (and owners). That’s why the NBA, and every other major sports league, makes it mandatory that players and coaches are available to talk to the media.
If Durant really wants to just play basketball, there are plenty of YMCAs, rec centers and outside courts where he can ply his craft. If he wants to be a famous, multi-millionaire superstar, he’ll have find a way to spend a few minutes each night talking to a bunch of random people who are paid to talk about him.
Of course, there’s another simpler solution that doesn’t require Durant to give up the flexibility that comes with his short deals. That would be to grow thicker skin and simply ignore the negative or speculative stories.
As a celebrity, Durant should expect people are going to write things that doesn’t like. He doesn’t have to whine or throw a hissy fit every time a reporter writes an article without getting a quote or running his past his PR team.
Somewhere in the world, there’s a badminton champion making $30K per year, flipping burgers or waiting tables on the weekend. They’re likely wishing and praying that a reporter would come to interview them so they can get a few more followers on social media or a few more dollars for their next title.
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