Now that Kevin Durant has dropped out of the FIBA World Cup, announcing his decision in a written statement Thursday afternoon, Thunder fans everywhere can chill out.
Serge Ibaka still is set to compete in the event for host country Spain, which gives the Thunder one remaining participant in this summer’s international event.
But after Durant followed in Russell Westbrook’s footsteps and backed out of the tournament, the Thunder’s two biggest stars are now safe, no longer subject to additional wear and tear or injury while not on the company’s time.
Durant’s decision might wash away fears of everyone with a rooting interest in the Thunder. But it’s a blow to the World Cup and, more importantly, to Team USA, which has spent the last several years cultivating a culture of players who are all in with their commitments to international competition. The timing of Durant’s announcement — he went through the entire training camp in Las Vegas while other stars pulled out before the team convened — made his decision even more peculiar.
So what prompted Durant’s exit?
Here are five factors that could explain Durant’s decision to withdraw and why he pulled out when he did.
Fatigue. This is the primary reason Durant gave. He said he needed to take a step back physically and mentally. But because Durant has never admitted to being fatigued skeptics would rightfully be suspicious. The raw numbers, though, are alarming. Over the past five regular seasons, no player has logged more minutes than Durant’s 15,064. In fact, the second closest player, LeBron James, trails Durant by 930 minutes. Additionally, Durant has appeared in 388 of a possible 394 games over that span. If anyone could use a break it’s Durant. Still, the guy has never saw a court he couldn’t get shots up on. Unless all those minutes, all those miles and all those milestones have finally caught up to Durant there figures to be something more.
A desire to focus on the upcoming NBA season. Here’s another reason Durant listed. He had a grueling 2013-14 season and, in a continued quest for the team’s first NBA title, he can expect more of the same next year. Committing to Team USA, however, mandated more than a month’s time and included extensive travel throughout the United States, Europe and Africa. Meanwhile, the tournament doesn’t end until two weeks before the start of training camp, which would have robbed Durant of all downtime and opportunities to unwind before again gearing up. Now, Durant can focus solely on individual workouts and doing whatever else it is he does to mentally prepare for a marathon season.
Paul George’s injury. Despite the best efforts of USA Basketball officials Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski to distance the connection of a star player being injured and subsequently lost for the upcoming season while prepping for an international, the gruesome broken right leg that the Indiana Pacers forward suffered undoubtedly entered the minds of his Team USA teammates in some way or another. Durant looked as distraught as anyone at the sight of George stretched out adjacent to the controversial stanchion. He had to be consoled by New Orleans forward Anthony Davis, and five days later Durant’s decision was made. That’s not to suggest Durant is afraid of getting injured. We’ve seen ample evidence to believe otherwise. But if Durant’s heart wasn’t fully in it before, George’s injury might have led Durant to only do more soul-searching about what exactly he was signing up for.
Pressure from a sponsor. It’s the NBA. You’ve got to have a conspiracy theory. And this one might be as crazy as all the others. But it’s hard to ignore. Durant reportedly is on the verge of leaving longtime sponsor Nike and signing a massively lucrative endorsement deal with Under Armour. Well, guess which shoe and apparel heavy hitter sponsors USA Basketball? That’s right, Nike. It’s possible, perhaps even probable for all we know, that some Under Armour executive requested Durant bow out of the competition so that he wouldn’t be plastered in Nike apparel for a month. Sure, it sounds far-fetched. But this is big business, and Durant might soon have 300 million reasons why he would have granted such a request.
It’s just not worth his time. This isn’t the Summer Olympics. This is an event to qualify for the Summer Olympics. This is a tournament that has rebranded itself from the FIBA World Championship to the FIBA World Cup partly in an attempt to drum up more interest. This is a field the Americans are expected to dominate — at least until the championship game — with or without Durant. Organizers and USA Basketball officials want to make it about patriotism. As if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are any less patriotic for choosing to not play. Durant has given his time and his talents to Team USA, dominating this tournament in 2010 and helping the U.S. take gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics. He’ll likely rejoin the mix for the 2016 Summer Olympics. But forget talk of doing it for the red, white and blue. There are simply better ways Durant could be spending his time.