Thursday, May 12, 2011

Where Kevin Durant Lives

My day job is actually kind of cool; I am the director of creative services for an online advertising company. (See? Some bloggers own their *own* basements.) We do a lot of things and I get my hand in a lot of pies, but this occasionally means that I'm pitching creative ideas to clients or agencies. Since we're online, fast and cost-effective, and pitching creative means having your ideas crushed a solid percentage of the time by people who are emotionally invested in another direction, it's a challenging role. And it also makes you view the show "Mad Men" as something approaching porn, since "Mad Men" frequently has the star creative pro, Don Draper (played by the actor Jon Hamm), abuse his clients for not going along with what he's selling. Here's the clip in question that is setting me off today. Give it a look, will you? (Sorry, the clip won't embed.)

I'm not here to tell you about Jesus. He either lives in your heart, or he doesn't. And in those few scathing words, Draper/Hamm nails how I feel about the NBA and their playoffs in general, and Thunder star Kevin Durant in particular.

Any number of people in my life who read the blog tolerate my hoop crush. It's a 2-month period where they just more or less give the blog a pass, wait until football season comes around or I find something on FTT Off-Topic or the occasional moment of baseball, and just wish I wasn't, well, this way. Some pine for me to get into hockey, in ways that are more or less the perfect opposite of my devotion to hoop. And I don't mind, for the most part, the lower traffic numbers and site ad revenue, because I don't do this for the traffic numbers or site ad revenue. I do it because I love sports, and especially hoop, and even more than that, the NBA playoffs. Can't get enough of them. This isn't news to you.

Now, I also have a friend who roots for the Thunder. He's actually, of course, a dispossessed Sonics fan who, since he doesn't live in the Pacific Northwest, has managed to port his fandom to Oklahoma City without too much angst, mostly because his team is just too damned lovable and smart and young and watchable to think about anything else. He's not too much into hoop, but he's pretty sharp. He's also, and this is the part that astounds me, completely on board with Russell Westbrook's decision making in this playoff year, and just the slightest bit down on Kevin Durant. There's even resentment at the presence of Kendrick Perkins, since he's such a whiner and thuggish presence on what used to be a team that avoided any tinge of complicity or compromise in the pursuit of Pure Watchable Ball.

I understand where all of you -- hockey fans, Westbrook over Durant supporters, non-NBA fans -- are coming from. And if you were to share all of my faiths and fandom, I'd probably be as itchy as a man who showered without realizing he had been exposed to poison ivy. (Yes, that happened to me. 16. One of the more potent but short-lived social disease experiences you can have, really. But back to the column.) If you like everything I like, I'm leading a cult, and that gets creepy.

But there's also this. In regards to the Thunder, Durant, and the NBA? You're all wrong.

Start with Westbrook/Durant. I get why the Thunder point guard is taking so many shots: he feels he can get past the Grizzly PGs for a quality look a lot easier than he can get the ball to Durant with Shane Battier and Tony Allen doing their straitjacket routine, and he's taking every chance to double down on the bad bet as public sentiment grows against him. Durant's such a good teammate, such an undemanding presence and willing passer out of the double-team, that when the heat is on, RW is inclined to hoist rather than move the ball, aesthetics and team chemistry be damned. (And pule if he misses that he didn't get the call, because that's just the way his competitive edge goes. Perhaps Michael Jordan's worst legacy. But once more, back to the point.)

Westbrook is, of course, wrong. Which is why so many people are giving it to him with both barrels.

Scorers like Durant is a false statement because there are no scorers like Durant. He's a quality three-point shooter with the wingspan to almost always have a clean look. He's a volume foul shooter that draws calls at nearly historic levels. You can't play him too tight, because his first step is quality, and if he gets to the hoop, he's either finishing with a flourish, going to the line and making two, or getting the old-school three. He's a willing passer and a credible ballhandler; though not quite expert level, and he's tireless. There's never a bad time to get him the ball, and on the rare nights when he's not feeling it (or the refs are letting someone hit him on every touch; he can be rattled by that), he finds another way to contribute, either on the glass or with defensive stops. He's also young, getting better, and devoid of distractions. There's nothing about him that's lacking.

He's the single player that I'd pick if you were to give me the Guy To Start A Franchise With pick, and that's no disrespect to LeBron James.

And Westbrook... is a fast and athletic point guard and good defensive presence. He's also got an intermittent shot, questionable judgment (especially in regards to the refs -- the man might be the biggest technical foul risk I've seen at the point since Gary Payton and Isiah Thomas, who both played in a much more tolerant era for techs), and the ability to make his teammates sag and stop working on screens and defense, since the game he's playing isn't, well, a winning one. Or, unlike Durant, unique.

You see, I've *seen* Westbrook before. He was called Allen Iverson (only without the foul-drawing ability). Or Derrick Rose (only without the assist numbers and full teammate buy-in). Or Sam Casell, or Stephon Marbury, or Steve Francis, or Peyton or Rod Strickland or... well, you get the picture.

Guys with numbers. Guys who wouldn't give up the dribble, or move the ball, or let crunch time be about anything but them. Guys without rings (at least as starters, or in the case of Rose, yet -- though the way the Bulls have played this playoff season, I'm inclined to think that Ring Free status will hold).

Guys who weren't Durant, and didn't have his gifts. Since, well, no one has Durant's gifts.

Now, back to the larger camp of non-believers, those who don't like pro hoop at all.

I just wish you had seen Game 4. Watching that triple overtime war was, well, that good. How good? I'm still high off it three days and a snoozy Game Five later. On some level, I regret having a poker game scheduled for my house this Friday night, because it means that I won't be able to watch Thunder-Grizz Game Six live. Yes, two teams where I have zero historical rooting interest, overturning having 20 people in my home for a 3-table tournament and cash game. That's how strong the presence of Durant is right now. (And that's not even getting into the fun the bonus fun that is Serge Ibaka and James Harden.)

So on some level, I am disappointed, piteous, contemptuous and all kinds of intolerant to all of the non-believers. I will not sit down. We've tried watching sports your way, and it doesn't work... at least, not as well as this.

And if you aren't watching, and won't give the Thunder your time... well, the rest is just kabuki. Sorry for wasting your time.

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