Kevin Durant is still a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
After a tumultuous summer and an even tougher start to the season, the superstar who requested a trade some seven months ago enters Friday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) playing arguably the best basketball of his career. He finished December averaging 28.3 points per game while shooting 58% from the field.
The 34-year-old finds himself well placed and says he thinks the league is also well placed. Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford spent last season working with Durant as a consultant to Steve Nash’s Nets staff, and highlighted Durant’s passion and knowledge of the game. “He’ll come in and say, ‘Have you watched St. Peter’s/St. Francis? ‘” Clifford said. “He always watches basketball, college or an all-star game. I bet if you talk to him, I bet he knows some of the best players in high school. He lives it.”
The 6-foot-10 forward, in his 16th year, was the mainstay of stability for a Nets team often defined by the opposite. He skipped the Nets – winners of 16 of their last 18 games, while putting himself at the forefront of yet another MVP conversation.
Durant sat down several times throughout this season with ESPN’s Nick Friedell to discuss his trade request over the summer, how the Nets managed to stay together when things could have gone their separate ways, what the league can do to improve the regular season and whether it believes tanking is a problem as teams monitor the development of the 2023 draft’s top prospect, Victor Wembanyama.
[Editor’s note: Answers have been minimally edited for clarity and brevity.]
Why didn’t things fall apart after all the Kyrie [Irving] stuff – why did you get together now when things could have easily exploded?
Because we were together despite everything. I think coming into training camp we realized it was going to be a lot on us from a media point of view, because of the noise in general around our team, so I think that made us tighter once camp begins. So we were able to take Kyrie’s things and move on in stride because we were already glued together before that. We started winning games, improving as a team and doing things that work for us. And now it looks like it’s all been fixed, but it felt like it was still cool, to be honest.
Over the summer when you decided to come back, why were you so confident that you could still compete for a title?
I don’t even look at s— that way. My whole thing was like — are we, does the process matter to us? And that’s one thing that I knew people here enjoyed, grinding. So that was the most important thing for me. The titles and the stuff come with the process in which you — how you prepare. It was more like, “Okay, are we going to train harder? Are we going to pay more attention to detail?” Not just everyone, all of us, including me. Is it going to be preached to us every day? I had faith that it would happen because I also voiced that throughout the summer. Even behind the scenes, like, “Yo, that’s what I like to do. That’s how I like to practice.” I’ve been saying that for a few years, so I thought to myself that at that time, with me, they understood what I valued. That’s what I hung my hat on, the preparation side.
“Because we’re consuming everything all the time, we’re starting to take a lot of things for granted. The NBA is one of them.”
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant
As you well know, in a lot of other teams when a star player asks for a trade, I think of James Harden with the Rockets, Jimmy Butler with the Timberwolves, Anthony Davis with the Pelicans, everything around that team seems to be falling apart even if that player stays after…
But you have to realize with their situations, when did this happen to them? In the middle of the season.
Well, Jimmy started the summer…
[He got traded] in the middle of the season, while he was at Minnesota. Remember, he was playing games when he wasn’t playing – he was sitting out a few games, he was traded mid-season from Minnesota, right? James, the same way. AD, the same way. It was a summer thing. We weren’t playing any games. I didn’t interfere with what we were doing on the pitch every day. It wasn’t a question of what you ask my teammates every day after a game or practice. What I did didn’t interfere with the games that were being played, so I felt like that was the difference in everything. So we chopped it all up right before camp, and it was cool, it didn’t get in the way of the hoops. So that’s the difference between what happened with those guys and [me].
After going through what you just went through over the summer, do you think there’s too much emphasis on free will?
Like I said, the NBA has been around for so long, the regular season — for real basketball fans, they’ve been enjoying the regular season for [what it is]. But our league is full of casual people who love basketball, but it’s not really — they don’t care that much, you know what I mean? They like to watch it as a hobby, but it’s not — there are people who are real fans of the game, you know what I mean? …
When it comes to people and the way they consume things, everything seems amazing right now. So adding in free agency, summer league, regular season, all that stuff, I think it’s just another avenue for people to engage in the game. Free agency is business huge – and they want to see where their favorite players are going, or their favorite teams, because they see guys starting to move. So it’s important, but the games are the only thing that really matters, to be honest.
What do you think the league can do to improve the regular season?
What do you mean – “improve?”
Make sure there’s more intensity in regular season games – or feel free to disagree with me if you don’t think that’s a problem?
I don’t think there is a problem at all. I think the game is well placed. I think people have learned to consume things a little differently. They might not enjoy a basketball game as much as they did back then. The more there is, the more people take it for granted. We are a huge, huge company. We move a lot of things on this earth, as NBA players, as a league, so at this point people are just being fussy because the numbers show popularity, all these ratings, analyzes how much the NBA is popular because people are intrigued and watching every aspect of the NBA – regular season, summer league, free agency, trade deadlines, draft. They’re all, from the talk and the popularity of the league, that everyone likes us, so I don’t see where the problem is.
Do you think there’s a perception problem in these regular season games that aren’t spotlighted more, that the average fan is wondering how hard someone is playing in an average regular season game?
Fans have become more authoritative than anything else. So they start to question our motives for gambling, or how we approach gambling. Those who question — like who are you? Shut up and watch the game tonight. We go as hard as we want. We go as hard as our bodies allow us at this point.
They only see us when games start, but trips, practices, shootouts – we’re constantly on the move. So not every game will be a high intensity playoff game. There will be times when, as a fan, you have to look and see, “Oh, these guys have traveled. This is the last game of a road trip. They may have to dig a little deeper to win this game. It might be a little sloppy tonight. We can appreciate that about the NBA because there’s so many games and these guys move around a lot throughout the season. So if fans stop taking us for granted, for starters. Stop putting too much pressure on every athlete to live up to their standards. But everyone appreciates what we bring to the table. … (Laughs) is seven, eight games in one night. Everyday. You rarely get a day off as an NBA fan, so learn to appreciate the hardship we’re going through and stop just staring at the money and waiting to us that we play for you and that we live up to the standards – those high expectations that you place on each of us as individuals. us. And then the dialogue around the game wouldn’t, wouldn’t — what’s the word I’m looking for?
Yeah, tense. Diluted. It’s story-driven. It’s calendar based. Biased. I just think about a lot of things — because we’re consuming everything all the time, we start taking a lot of things for granted. The NBA is one of them.
Do you like the idea of this mid-season tournament?
I don’t hate it, I don’t like it. It’s like that. It does not affect the season. I think we’ll keep talking about it like [part of] the regular season. But the games will mean a bit more, so it really doesn’t matter to me as long as we play.
You follow the game as closely as anyone I’ve met in the game. Do you think the league is going to have a problem this year given the intensity that seems to be around Wembanyama – on the tanking issues that come back to the fore?
Nah, the teams have been tanking for a minute. What, are you going to force them to be competitive? I don’t see a problem with that, because every year there are only a few teams that can win anyway. So the rest of the league is trying to figure out where they are. And that’s pretty smart business if you’re a team and you know you’re not going to be a playoff team or a play team you might as well try to play for [the No. 1 pick]. You might as well try and get some of the guys who probably won’t get real rotation minutes if you have a good team, get them reps and maybe those guys can be life changing too.