After Friday night’s easy win over the Timberwolves, ESPN reporter Royce Young asked Kevin Durant about the popular perception of the Thunder, based upon Michael Wilbon’s recent comments on PTI. Here’s what Wilbon said:
There is some unnecessary television bluster here, but Wilbon is basically correct. The Spurs are on pace to shatter the NBA record for highest average point differential, the Warriors are on pace to achieve the greatest record in NBA history, and the Cavaliers still have that LeBron James fellow (and don’t have to play the Warriors or Spurs before the NBA Finals). Any other team making it to the NBA Finals would certainly qualify as surprising and an upset.
Predictably and understandably, Durant disagrees with Wilbon’s entirely reasonable interpretation of the NBA landscape. Which is perfectly fine: Durant has all the right in the world to have an extreme level of confidence in his other-worldly talents, and those of the teammates around him. But instead of expressing something along those lines in response to Young’s question, Durant went on one of his increasingly-common rants against “the media.” Via ESPN:
“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.
“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”
Durant’s aggrieved response has little basis in reality. “The media” sometimes criticize the Thunder, just like “the media” sometimes criticize every team. “The media” doesn’t dislike the Thunder, unless accurately reporting on their failure to return to the NBA Finals in the past three seasons constitutes distaste. Durant also plies his trade in the relatively small Oklahoma City, in front of an extremely homerish local media, with the exception of one deeply stupid headline.
Before the season, the aggregate prediction of the Thunder’s record by the 200 reporters, analysts, and bloggers—“the media”—surveyed by ESPN was 55-27, just a few ticks worse than the 58-24 record they’re on pace for. The predictions for the Warriors and Spurs are much more inaccurate and ungenerous: sure sounds like Thunder nitpicking to me!
And what do his comments about new teams even mean? The Spurs (who won the championship two seasons ago) have been around forever, the core of the Warriors (who won the championship last season) has been around for four seasons, and while the construction of the Cavaliers’ roster is relatively recent, they’re led by the ever-present LeBron James (whose been to the last five NBA Finals).
Really, the biggest criticism of the Thunder this season came from their general manager, Sam Presti. Over the offseason Presti fired head coach Scott Brooks—whose .620 winning percentage is the eighth highest among coaches with over 500 games—validating the criticisms of the Thunder’s late-game offense and Brooks’s clock mismanagement. He also signed the defensively unplayable Enes Kanter to a four-year, $70 million contract, reckoning the Thunder had to pay out the nose for him to have any chance at winning.
As we noted last year after Durant lashed out at the media, this seems like an intentional stance he has adopted modify his public image, to show that he’s not the deferential and abiding superstar he’s portrayed as. And to be clear, there are plenty of things to castigate the sports media for, like promulgating unfounded rumors about free agency plans.