LAS VEGAS — The Lakers chased another star. Once again, that star ran away.
This time, the reasons had nothing to do with personality conflicts with teammates, salary or a poor sales pitch in its meeting. Kevin Durant did not grant the Lakers a meeting at all namely because he figured it would be a waste of time.
“Nothing against the Lakers, but I already had my mind set on who I wanted to talk to,” Durant said following practice with the U.S. Olympic team on Monday at UNLV. “I really respect their team. I just thought they were a couple years away from where I wanted to be.”
Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State, a move that on paper could make the Warriors seemingly unstoppable. They have two sharp shooters (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson), versatile forwards (Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala) and an innovative coach (Steve Kerr). Meanwhile, the Lakers have a promising young roster headlined by D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Yet, skepticism remains on how quickly the Lakers can rebuild considering both the team’s youth and finishing the last two seasons with its worst records in franchise history.
Nonetheless, Durant’s apathy toward the Lakers arguable validates his contention that Kobe Bryant received unfair criticism about his presence deterring free agents. Concerns arose about the size of Bryant’s contract (two years, $48 million), his durability (three season-ending injuries in recent years) and personality.
Yet, Bryant played a factor in the Lakers landing a meeting with Carmelo Anthony and nearly convincing Pau Gasol to stay. LaMarcus Aldridge reportedly found Bryant’s talk one of the few positives out of a meeting he believed centered too much on business opportunities instead of basketball. Although Dwight Howard clashed with Bryant during their lone season together in 2012-13, Howard also left because of the team’s rebuilding direction and philosophical differences with former coach Mike D’Antoni.
“I just like having the back of our players in this league,” Durant said, referring toward defending Bryant. “That’s who I am. I respect every player. If you come to me to say anybody bad about any player in this league, I’m going to disagree. It’s a brotherhood and I respect every guy in this league. So you can’t get me to talk to you about anybody else in a negative manner. That’s just me.”