Kevin Durant will be on the court this week, but not the way he planned or expected to be. With the NBA Finals tipping off, he’ll be in training camp with Team USA.
Almost immediately after his Nets lost Game 7 of their second-round series to the Bucks, Durant committed to play in the Tokyo Olympics. He didn’t want to hear all the congratulations about his bounce-back from Achilles surgery, or his brilliant playoff performance. To him, that was expected. Actually, he expected more.
“I’m getting so many congratulations now: I didn’t do anything. We lost,” Durant said on the “Boardroom: Out of Office” podcast. “I knew I could play, I knew I was nice. I’ve scored 48 before. I had big games before, I made big shots before. So it didn’t feel like anything special to me, because we lost.”
If there was anything encouraging that Durant took out of his first year actually playing for the Nets, it wasn’t reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals when they clearly had taken aim at the NBA Finals. And it wasn’t averaging 26.9 points fresh off an 18-month layoff following his ruptured Achilles.
No, it was changing the culture around the Nets. Better local ratings in the regular season, mammoth ratings in the postseason, celebrities in the Barclays Center stands and a growing fan base that can almost taste a title? That, he takes pride in.
“Just the camaraderie we built with the fans. The culture we kind of built around Barclays and just Nets culture in general,” Durant said. “People kind of look at the Nets now and like, ‘All right, they can be contenders next year.’ I like that part of it. I was excited about that going forward.
“I was excited about that even in the regular season. It felt pretty solid to start to build a culture. I feel like a lot Nets fans feel like, ‘Yo, we got a chance.’ To make some noise next year.”
The noise Durant is talking about is staying healthy and actually completing the unfinished business of getting to the NBA Finals and winning a title. But one of the more gratifying things for Durant was the fact his Nets at least made some noise, both in the NBA and in the New York sporting landscape.
It was Durant’s recruitment of James Harden that made the Nets’ lopsided deal with Houston even possible. And Durant watched his plan — at least partially — come to fruition, infusing a once-invisible Nets team with much-needed juice and cachet.
“It was fun, man,” Durant said. “Especially with the Knicks playing and us playing. We got two teams in the playoffs. Knicks [and] Nets fans got a little beef right now because both teams are solid. We got the MSG-Barclays beef in the city.
“It just felt like a lot of energy, man. You look in our stands, you see superstars there. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, H.E.R., Bryan Cranston … Travis Scott. You see that energy floating around our building for games like that now. What’s next year going to look like? People got that picture in their minds. It’s cool to be a part of that s–t, to help build that s–t.”
The Nets’ Game 7 against the Bucks — with the kind of glitterati usually reserved for the Garden — averaged 6.91 million viewers on TNT. It was not only the most-watched program of the week on any network, but also it was the league’s eighth-best early round playoff draw since 2012 — and the third-largest on cable.
Granted, it didn’t end the way Durant had planned, with his last-ditch miss in overtime essentially ending the Nets’ season. Within a day he committed to Team USA, which begins training camp Tuesday, and the Olympics.
“Being in Tokyo, I’ve never been there before. Playing with [Jayson] Tatum and Book [Devin Booker] and Dame [Lillard] … Bam [Adebayo],” Durant said. “I never played with those dudes, so I’m looking forward to that.
“I just like playing for Team USA. I just love the hospitality they show us. Just the whole experience is fun. Just being around the guys for a month is cool.”
The gold medal game is Aug. 6, with the closing ceremonies two days later.
Knowing Durant, it won’t take long for his mind to turn to his paying gig, and the 2021-22 season he’s already looking forward to.
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