After observing that it’s rather cold here — good thing he didn’t come around last winter — Kevin Durant had many warm things to say about Boston Wednesday morning following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s shootaround at TD Garden. I imagine you have heard about this.
“I like the city a lot,’’ said the Thunder superstar and potential object of every cap-room-possessing NBA franchise’s affection this offseason. “It’s cold but they love sports here. It’s a family atmosphere I feel when I walk around the city. So yeah, I like it a lot.’’
For Celtics fans who have daydreamed about Durant playing here since Danny Ainge was spotted sitting next to his mom at a Texas game in 2007, those words will spur hope.
But wait! There’s more! It’s not just our city Durant enjoys. It’s the burgeoning and usually admirable basketball team that represents it.
“I’ve been watching this team a lot,’’ he said. “And they’re scrappy. They play hard. They love their coach, they love their system, and especially in this building they play with a lot of energy.’’
He speaks the truth, of course, though that last part, about the energy, didn’t exactly apply in the game played several hours after the remarks. The Thunder throttled the Jae Crowder-less Celtics, 130-109, on Wednesday evening, handing the hosts their worst home loss of the season. Durant, who in person appears to cover the court in 3 1/2 strides and release his shot from between the Espo and Neely retired numbers in the rafters, scored 28 points and was a plus-30 in 30 minutes of playing time. Seven of his points came in the game’s first 69 seconds, when it looked like he might shatter Paul Pierce’s decade-old single-game building scoring record (50 points) by halftime
If the Celtics’ intent was to convince Durant to like Boston at little more, well, the rims were friendly, the defense overmatched, and the Thunder victory so easily secured that Gino wouldn’t have been faulted had he danced for the visiting team for once. Celtics fans did their part too, giving Durant a rousing ovation during pregame introductions, then chanting “Come to Boston’’ at scattered moments.
In the Thunder locker room afterward, Durant said he didn’t hear the fans’ orchestrated attempts at tampering. “I didn’t even hear that man,’’ he said. “I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They said that?’’
If he didn’t hear them, he was the only one in the building who didn’t. Durant arrived feeling good about Boston, and nothing changed before his departure. The Celtics were accidentally gracious hosts, making the admired visitor feel right at home. Now if they can just convince him to stop the occasional visits and make this his home.
And maybe he doesn’t need that much convincing, if any at all. Did you catch this high praise, via ESPN?
"The tradition of being a Boston Celtic is second to none." - Kevin Duranthttps://t.co/zJigxlRlYe— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 17, 2016
I mean, if you don’t watch that clip 35 times in a row and think, “He’s either trolling Boston or he loves Boston, and holy [bleeps and expletives] KEVIN DURANT LOVES BOSTON,’’ then I don’t know what we’re doing here. Can you imagine Ainge’s reaction to seeing that clip?
Durant’s comments seized the sports headlines of the day from the Patriots’ sudden flurry of activity, and they should have. I don’t know how much we should read into what he said about liking it here, but I do know we should read into that, because he seemed to be dropping a few points on Boston then, too.
Durant is 27, but he ain’t that young anymore in basketball years; he’s in his eighth NBA season. Hell, he was Sonic, and it seems like they’ve been gone since Jack Sikma packed up his perm and retired. Durant’s personality has changed some through the seasons — his transformation from happy-go-lucky superstar to still-beloved-but-occasionally-grumpy superstar reminds me in a less extreme way of Ken Griffey Jr.’s public metamorphosis — but it’s fair to assume he’s also acquired nuance in those years.
He knows, as free agency approaches, that his words are going to be dissected and analyzed in every city that fancies itself a potential basketball suitor. He knows to choose those words carefully, and how to make a point with subtlety and subtext. I believe he chose those words carefully Wednesday, and he knew full well that his words would be interpreted with seriousness and hope here.
He does not say these things in every city, so far as I can tell. And what he said in this city affirms what a sage national NBA writer told me before the game: Pay particular attention to the parts about the players loving the coach and the system. There’s a message there.
That stands as a reminder — one not required for those of us who were drawn to this team long before it looked capable of advancing a couple of rounds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but one required for the recent bandwagon boarders — that the Celtics are an appealing situation in the present, with the promise of greater appeal in the near future.
The Celtics lack a superstar, sure. But they will have money to pay for two max-level players in the offseason — while we’re spitballin’ and daydreamin’, how about Durant and Al Horford, anyone? — and there is also the chance, depending on the whims of the ping-pong balls, at securing a fledgling but gifted player in the NBA Draft.
And it’s not like the roster is dotted with Todd Day-types right now. Crowder (if there’s any doubt that he’s their MVP, it’s being erased in his absence), Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are the kind of got-your-back teammates any superstar would love to have in his huddle. And if I have to sell you on the coach at this point, well, it’s clear Durant has paid more attention to Brad Stevens’s brand of unassuming sideline wizardry than you have.
What’s the reality? Well, as a certain other lanky superstar who came to Boston once said, anything is possible. Durant is going to have every option he desires. And the most logical one, at least in terms of maximizing his earning power, is to re-sign with the Thunder for one more year, then collect his real free-agent jackpot after the 2016-17 season.
But a lot can happen in the interim. The Thunder could self-destruct in the playoffs. He could decide to hit free agency now, while his feet are healthy. He could do the Kevin Love Greatest Bar/Fenway Tour this summer. He could decide he wants his own team — one with a beloved coach and system — rather than a co-starring role with mercurial Russell Westbrook. He could decide a move east is the best path to a championship. He could decide to become a Warrior or a Wizard or a godforsaken Laker.
He could decide so many things, and many of them are plausible, including the possibility of joining the team he took apart Wednesday night. After his shootaround comments, the narrative around here seemed to change from sarcastic rebuttals to the notion of Durant joining the Celtics to putting percentages on the possibility. I’m not pulling Reggie Lewis’s No. 35 down from the rafters and handing it to Durant just yet. I’m saying we’ve been asking the wrong question all along.
Why would Kevin Durant come to Boston? Hey, why wouldn’t he?