It’s a reflection of the outsized expectations heaped upon the Nets that their stunning first-round exit continues to be a major subject in hoops circles. Not that they didn’t have ample reasons to cite for their seeming collapse. They appeared to be snakebit from the outset, needing to navigate a complex web of obstacles both of their own making and beyond their control. The bottom line, of course, is that they had on their roster 12-time All-Star Kevin Durant, universally deemed to be the greatest scorer in National Basketball Association history. He was supposed to be their “Get Out of Jail, Free” card, and he failed to deliver on his promise.
Indeed, Durant produced numbers well below his playoff norms in the first-round series against the higher-seeded Celtics. To contend that he was hard-pressed to carry the Nets would be an understatement; his 26.3-5.8-6.3 splits off 38% shooting from the field in 44 minutes on the floor was as much an offshoot of the effectiveness of the defense as of his inability to carry the requisite load amid all the dysfunction. Which is to say he deserved all the criticism coming his way, and more. It goes with the territory.
Durant being Durant, however, there was to be no stopping him from responding in kind. Given all his accomplishments, conventional wisdom had him moving on and understanding the opprobrium to be part and parcel of superstardom. Instead, he went about defending himself in quarters he would have been better off leaving alone. In particular, he took exception to the comments of Hall of Famer Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA following the Nets’ postseason demise. To be sure, the analysis was on point, with the catchy “Who’s gonna want to play on that team?” query contextualized in the face of their salary cap concerns. Nonetheless, he saw fit to post an Instagram story containing four photos of one of the best players in league annals alongside other marquee names with the Rockets and Sixers; he included the caption “Where would chuck be without the big homies.”
Which is just plain wrong. After all, Barkley did lead the Suns to the NBA Finals, and was just two wins short of claiming the Larry O-Brien Trophy in a season that capped by Most Valuable Player honors. Moreover, the argument Durant railed against focused on his failings, incontrovertible under any circumstance and irrespective of the body of work of any and all others. Then again, who’s to say how his mind works? Didn’t he once go to such lengths as to create a fake account just to get back at otherwise-faceless personalities on Twitter?
Make no mistake. Durant remains without peer in terms of putting the ball through the hoop. Needless to say, though, he needs help — and not simply because basketball is a team sport. The game is so sophisticated these days that otherworldly talent alone does not guarantee success. “No regrets,” he said in the aftermath of the Nets’ elimination. “S—t happens.” And he’s right. Now if he only believed it and stopped being so sensitive, he may yet find the time to concentrate on the things that do matter.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.