Lynne Sladky/Associated Press file photo
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press file photo
LAS VEGAS – Kevin Durant can’t hide from the hurt this summer.
LeBron James is right there every time he steps on the basketball court now. The NBA finals ended in Miami only about three weeks ago, with James’ victory celebration interrupted only briefly to embrace his opponent in a consoling hug.
Durant admits it bothers him coming to the gym and seeing James every day.
“It does. It does. But what can I do?” Durant said Tuesday. “He’s my teammate now. I’m a team player. I can’t let that affect this. This is bigger than that. It’s tough to lose in the finals and play the guy you’ve been going up against for five games who beat you. So me, I’m just going to get over it, still be a great teammate, come out and play hard.”
Kobe Bryant was in Durant’s shoes four years ago, having to shake off the disappointment of a finals loss to the Boston Celtics and get back out on the court for the Olympics. He said it’s normal to not want to play for a few days but figures Durant has had enough time to get over it by now.
“But then again, I wasn’t playing on the Olympic team with, you know, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and Garnett,” Bryant said. “He’s got to look at LeBron every day. I didn’t have to do that. So I don’t know if I could do that. I’d probably be trying to destroy him every single day in practice to try to, I don’t know, take a little of the edge off maybe.”
James and Durant actually are friends, James inviting Durant to work out with him last summer in Ohio. That wouldn’t make much difference to Bryant, one of the NBA’s fiercest competitors.
“Being the friends thing, I mean that’s fine,” Bryant said. “Once you start playing, I’d really, I’d have to go after him. There’s just no way.”
James experienced the heartbreak of a finals loss last year, the Heat beaten by Dallas. It was especially difficult on James, who played poorly in the fourth quarters of those games, adding a new level of criticism piled onto what he already had been facing since his departure from Cleveland the previous summer.
He hardly wanted to do anything in the days after that loss and agreed it would have bothered him if he had to play with then-Mavericks center Tyson Chandler last summer. So he knows what Durant must be feeling.
“It bothers him,” James said. “I bet it bothers him and (Russell) Westbrook, you know, they probably don’t want to hear about it. It would bother me, it would bother anyone that you lose to someone in the finals, where everyone’s competing at the highest level and you want to win and then you have to team up with them not too long, not too far removed from the games.”
There’s usually more time between the finals and the Olympics, but the lockout moved back the start of the NBA season and pushed the dates closer together this year. The finals ended June 22, and the U.S. opened its training camp July 6.
Though he was upset at losing in his first finals bid, Durant said there’s been enough time to turn the page.
“I switched that mode off and turned it into USA Basketball mode, and we’re all teammates, and I’m glad we’ve come together as a group,” Durant said.
Durant was the unquestioned star of the U.S. team that won the world championship two years ago, breaking American scoring records for points in a tournament (22.8 average) and game (38). Yet in some ways now it feels as if he’s coming to James’ team.
Durant is quieter, sometimes hard to find in the crowded U.S. practice gym. James is impossible to miss, often surrounded by one of his close friends on the team, such as Chris Paul or Deron Williams or Carmelo Anthony, or USA Basketball trainers or his own personal support staff. His voice seems loudest, making it easy to hear him barking out instructions from the bench during scrimmages, so Durant couldn’t avoid him even if he wanted to.
Their individual dual created the hype around the finals. All that matters now is their ability to mesh.
“It is tough, man, because we just come off a great finals,” James said. “Our matchup was one of the most profiled matchups in league history, so it’s tough. But at the same time, we understand what we’re here for. We’re going to use our talents, we’re going to use what we know we can do to try to help this team win gold.”
That would allow Durant to come out of this summer with a championship. He’s got plenty to look forward to along the way, expecting to see numerous friends and family this weekend when the Americans move their training camp across the country to his hometown of Washington.
Still, seeing James means also having to look back.
“I wanted to win so bad. I wanted to win for the city; I wanted to win for – of course – our team, myself; I wanted to win for so many people, man. You kind of feel like you let them down just a little bit,” Durant said. “So, learning process, man. I guess you’ve got to go through that to get better, so hopefully it helps us as a team. Hopefully we get a chance to get back there one day.”