The NBA shopping season doesn’t begin for eight months, yet the Lakers may already have to delete the first name on their list.
Kevin Durant apparently doesn’t want to join them because he says playing with LeBron James would be unreasonably difficult.
Too bad, so sad.
Durant, a potential free agent next summer, did a bunch of whining Wednesday in a Bleacher Report story by Ric Bucher about the perceived hardships in playing with arguably the greatest player ever.
The Golden State Warriors star talked about problems faced by players who must adjust their games. He talked about youngsters not wanting to share James’ grand stage.
But then he went harsh when talking about the environment that exists around James, actually calling it ‘’toxic.’’
“So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,’’ Durant told the website. “He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points. So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is (bleep) attention, fluff.’’
Durant added, “It’s not LeBron’s fault at all; it’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball.’’
Shrug. Sigh. Eye roll.
At least that’s settled, anyway. No more detailed speculating. No more breathless predictions. Durant clearly doesn’t want to join the Lakers as long as James runs the joint, and there’s seemingly no late-night visit from Magic Johnson that is going to change his mind.
Somehow, I think the Lakers will survive. Just guessing, but I believe they’ll manage without a guy who is clearly not up for the challenge that playing in the entertainment capital with one of basketball’s greatest showmen entails.
The James-focused culture isn’t for everyone, and clearly it’s not for Durant, who’s right about some things but really wrong about others.
It’s true, the hype around James is overwhelming. I’ve been around the Lakers for more than 30 years and never experienced such a constant madhouse. Unlike past Laker greats, James was already the biggest basketball star on the planet when he arrived here, so he showed up with his own built-in galaxy that swallows up most of the available oxygen.
The media scrum around James’ Staples Center locker after games is deep and broad and impenetrable, several dozen reporters and camera folks every night. The pack that shows up for James then migrates to other players, virtually suffocating the entire Laker s locker room.
Judging from the crowds, there’s now as much attention paid to Tyson Chandler as there once was to Shaquille O’Neal, with the folks pressing down on Kyle Kuzma comparable to those who once surrounded Kobe Bryant.
There is a palpable buzz around this team unlike any other team in this town ever. It can be at once overwhelming and distracting and certainly a player can get lost in its noise.
But, “toxic?” No, it’s quite the opposite, it’s invigorating, it’s challenging, it feels like every night occurs on the biggest stage under brightest lights, every game feels like a Finals game, and the strongest young Lakers such as Kuzma and Josh Hart have thrived under the heat.
And, no, the accomplished reporters who regularly cover this team aren’t “fanboys’’ or “groupies’’ but seasoned journalists who understand good stories and dutifully chase them.
James is the definition of a good story. When he plays, with his foibles illuminated as much as his greatness, he’s interesting. When he talks, which is far more often than most players of his caliber, he can be even more interesting. One minute he’s talking about social justice, the next minute about waxing over watching his children play basketball, and then he might conclude by addressing his tremendous expectations.
It hasn’t been all positive, in this space and elsewhere. He has been criticized for occasionally seeming aloof. It’s been noted that he does not yet seem like a Laker, but rather some visiting headliner for an eight-month variety show. He has been ripped for not playing much defense, and for his strange inability to make a big fourth-quarter free throw.
But after five years of drudgery, he has transformed the Staples Center into a nightly party. After the longest playoff drought in franchise history, he might actually lift this team into a top-four seed in the West, and they could truly take the next step next season with another star, and there are surely players out there who would want to be part of that.
Just not Durant, which is surprising considering he left Oklahoma City to join a championship team filled with stars in Golden State. Of course, most of those stars are unassuming free spirits who don’t solely command a room like James. Durant apparently doesn’t relish being challenged by an intimidating presence like James, just as he didn’t like being challenged by teammate Draymond Green in their recent courtside dustup.
If Durant came south to add a new chapter to his illustrious career, he could eventually run the Lakers and own Los Angeles as James inevitably slows. But all Durant can see is James’ shadow, and he wants no part of that, even if it can be as empowering as it is massive.
“What I’ve known about being around him for these few months is he’s an incredible teammate,’’ said Lakers coach Luke Walton to reporters about James at the team’s shoot-around Tuesday. “He’s very unselfish. He’s won multiple championships with other superstars…why would you not want to play with LeBron? He’s a winner and he’s an incredible player and he’s unselfish.’’
Some folks say the biggest knock on James as a teammate is that Kyrie Irving fled from him in Cleveland. But think about that. It was only with James that Irving won a championship. Only after he won the title did he flee.
Probably the most underrated James’ statistic is his assists. He currently leads the Lakers in assists. Last season he finished second in the league in assists. By the end of this season, he will probably move into the NBA’s top 10 in career assists. By the end of his career, he could even have more assists than Magic Johnson.
Kevin Durant doesn’t want James to put the ball in his hands?