Kevin Durant - A Breath of Fresh Air

With all of the absurdity and ego-massaging that has been NBA free-agency, you almost start to hate the league. Why would we support a league that has one of it's star-players hold an hour long special dedicated to his decision? What reason is there to watch a league so centered around the individual that the star players have become bigger than the game itself?

Amidst all this, you almost forget about a player like Kevin Durant.

Yesterday, under the radar, Durant signed a max extension for 5-years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Seeing the hoop-la that's surrounded James' free-agency - the Thunder wanted to avoid the same thing down the road, not that Durant would ever flaunt himself to this extent.

"Oh, no!" said Durant laughing at the possibility of holding his own TV special. "My situation is different from all those guys. Mine was a little easier. It didn't take all that stuff. I just wanted to keep it quiet. That's the kind of person I am."

LeBron, despite never winning as much as a game in the NBA Finals, is being treated as a messiah, "the chosen one", ready to hand a championship to whichever team is the highest bidder. Or, whichever team can greatest enhance his brand.

However, one could make the argument that Durant is the better player or at least will be one day. Last season, at 21, he became the youngest scoring champion in NBA History - leading his team to a 50 win season. Unlike LeBron, who wilted against tough competition in the Celtics. Durant and his young nucleus were relentless against the LA Lakers in the first round. The 8th seed against the 1st seed - and the Thunder were inches away from at-least taking the series to seven games.

Aside from his impressive on-court performance, he's already surpassed James personality wise.

While "The King" has always brought his team to Akron to accept his MVP Award, this TV special shows where his true values lie. While James is busy getting all done up to go on national television - Durant is down in Florida - mentoring the Summer League team and spotting them in the weight room. During the games, he's on the side-line pulling guys aside and telling them what he sees on the court. He's trying to help his team get better.

His focus is where it should be - on the game. And most of all, on his team.

Another thing that's admirable about Durant and the Thunder - is that emphasis on team. A mantra the Celtics have prided themselves on as well.
"'I know a lot of people talk about being a team, but I think we really do have that here' said Durant. 'There's a lot of learning going on. We're not just picking things up on the fly. They're actually taking the time and teaching us the right way to do things. No matter where we are in the summertime, they'll fly coaches out to see us. We get together end of the season and say, 'OK, I'll see you at some point' and we follow through.''"
And the Thunder developed their nucleus not through groveling for free-agents - but through home grown talent. That's something that I've always admired about the Tampa Bay Rays in baseball - as much as I hate them as a Sox fan. They don't have the payroll of the Yankees or Red Sox - but they've managed to build a team that competes right there with them.

"'There is more of an accomplishment this way,' Durant said. 'We started at the bottom. We didn't go and get a free agent. We didn't make a big trade with different guys. We started at the bottom, took a lot of losses and then started progressing here. I think that's the best way to do it.'"

Durant tweeted this morning, "I really don't deserve this praise for handling my deal the way I did...plenty of guys did it the way I did..." And really he's right. But, amidst all the absurdity that's been NBA free-agency a player like Durant is refreshing. His stark contrast to everything that has been stomach churning since the NBA Finals ended is a relief. He makes me still want to be an NBA fan.