Kevin Durant wants to clear up something about his offseason workouts with LeBron James.
“A lot of people blew (it) out of proportion,” the reigning three time scoring champion said. “It was just one day.”
Still, some had a problem with Durant recently traveling to Ohio for the second consecutive summer to train with James. Durant, though, doesn't see the big deal.
“I'm a competitive guy,” Durant said. “I'm sure you guys have seen that in me. I just wanted to work out. That's what it was all about. I'll work out with anybody. I would have worked out with Kobe Bryant. I would have worked out with Carmelo (Anthony). I just wanted to work out and get better.”
This year's visit, unlike last year's lengthier trip that was dubbed “Hell Week,” was unplanned. Durant said he took two to three weeks off following the Olympics and James reached out to him.
“He was the first guy that called me and I said ‘Hey, why not?” Durant said. “And I went out there and worked hard. So hopefully I have a good season this year.”
The pairing was so perplexing to so many because it's almost unheard of for two players who quite possibly are the best two on the planet — who just happen to play the same position — to team up and become training partners. It's more unusual for those same two players to become training partners in the same summer that saw them compete in the NBA Finals and win an Olympic gold medal together.
“I've been friends with him since I was in high school, and to play on the same team with him after we lost to them in the Finals that was the toughest thing,” Durant said. “Just seeing him every day after they beat us, that was tough. But I had to let that go and just focus on Team USA and that's what I did.”
Durant now says it's made him better.
“I think I grew a lot as far as mentally when I did that, just letting things go and just moving on,” Durant said. “It was tough. It was tough for (Russell Westbrook) and James (Harden) as well. But we moved on from that and got better as individuals throughout this summer and helped the team win gold.”
Of course that was the ultimate goal, to get better. Durant has focused on that above all else since he entered the league. The public's perception of who he should or should not train with hasn't swayed his decisions one way or the other.
“I think they help each other, and their friendship has nothing to do with how they compete against each other on the floor,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I think that's blown out of proportion. I think it's good.
“It's not like he worked out with him every day throughout the summer. But that doesn't bother me. You want to work out with the best players that you can find and you're not going to find a better player than LeBron.”
Much of the criticism Durant and James received can be explained by two things: the rivalry that others want to force on them despite their clear friendship, and the old-school mentality that knows nothing other than competitors despising one other on and off the court.
“There's things that are old school that you have to change to get into the new world,” Brooks said. “And it's a different world. We play in a different world. There's the social media, so you are able to have friendships with these players that you compete against. But it hasn't affected the way that we compete on the floor…With our guys it has never affected how we compete against guys on the floor.”
Westbrook has trained with his closest counterpart, Chicago guard Derrick Rose, in each of the past four offseasons. They're two of the top five players at their position, and perhaps two of the top 10 players in the league. Yet little to no backlash has found its way to Rose and Westbrook.
“It's just different because we played (Miami) in the Finals and everybody wants to make a big deal out of it,” Westbrook said. “I mean, they're good friends. They knew each other before this, before the Finals, before each of them were at the level that they are now so I don't think it's a big deal.”
Westbrook charged the AAU scene for helping create today's culture of chumminess. Players are friends, if not teammates, from a very early stage in their basketball journeys.
“I think that's a big part,” Westbrook said. “A lot of players know each other just from playing on the same team as younger guys, AAU, high school, college. And then when they get to the NBA obviously it becomes a big deal.”
Much of Westbrook's growth, however, can be attributed to him and Rose pushing each other annually at a high school gym outside Los Angeles. Perhaps the operative saying no longer is to be the best you have to beat the best but to be the best you must work with the best.
“It definitely can be helpful. You can learn things,” Westbrook said. “I feel that it's always room for improvement in your game. I don't know if it's always the right thing to do every single time, but you can always work out and learn new things.”