The Pro Life
Unsolicited advice for Kevin Durant.
San Antonio Express-News
Hollister: On June 28 the NBA will officially make University of Texas wunderkind Kevin Durant one of its own. It’s a big world for a good kid—which, by all accounts, Durant does seem to be, right?
Rosner: Yeah, definitely. And they’re not all like that out there.
Griffin: I don’t think you could have asked for anything more, if you were [UT coach] Rick Barnes, from your one year with a basketball superstar.
Hollister: So first off, some advice for the guy. How does he stay a good kid? Given the kind of money and fame—and women—coming his way, how does he not get distracted?
Rosner: That was a concern of Durant’s, and it was one reason why I think Barnes thought maybe he’d come back to school for a while, so he wouldn’t go off as an eighteen-year-old and have his mother come live with him.
Hollister: Is that the plan? Will Mom go with him?
Rosner: I don’t know that that’s the plan, but I think it was something he was worried about.
Griffin: With almost every top draft pick—the multimillionaire types—that’s how it seems to happen. Teams like for them to have a family member around to make the transition. Remember, he’s going to be thrown in with a bunch of people who are in their mid-thirties. And he’ll have to deal with unforgiving coaches, playing 82 games during the course of a season. And that’s a big grind for someone who’s been in school for twelve years.
Walker: As for not being distracted, I think guys like Durant, or like [Ohio State phenom and top draft pick] Greg Oden, are used to all that stuff. They get attention in high school. So by the time they have a year under their belt in college, they’ve dealt with the media attention, they’ve dealt with everybody coming at them, they’ve dealt with the questions and talking about their future. They’re prepared. Durant knows the drill.
Griffin: I don’t think that the PR apparatus for any team Durant heads into will be quite as trained to shield its potential superstar the way [Durant was shielded his] freshman year in college.
Rosner: You saw that with Ricky Williams, when he left Texas to go into the NFL and started doing interviews wearing his helmet.
Hollister: Are you saying Kevin is like Ricky?
Griffin: Oh, no. And that’s not to say there was anything wrong with Ricky either. But I think Kevin will be uniquely suited to make the jump to the NBA.
Rosner: His issue may just be whether he’s physically ready. He’s not the most muscular guy in the world right now.
Hollister: Okay, so how much would you tell him he needs to pack on?
Rosner: It’s more of a question of how much can he pack on. He doesn’t gain weight that easily, although when he arrived at Texas, he was barely over 200, and I think he played most of this season around 220. He’s a guy who probably needs to play at 235 at some point, but I don’t know that it’s going to happen that quickly.
Hollister: Say you sat him down for some friendly pointers. How does he avoid a Kwame Brown—like road to unrealized potential? What kind of coach does he need, what system should he work in?
Griffin: That’s hard to answer, because at this point we don’t know where he’s going to end up. The two likely scenarios are Boston or Memphis. Boston’s coaching situation is up in the air: Doc Rivers might come back. It’s not for sure. With Memphis, they’ve been talking to Larry Brown. After seeing Brown in the development of David Robinson in San Antonio in the early nineties, I don’t know if this would be a great place for Durant at first, as far as developing confidence in his game. I think the talent on a team like Memphis might be interesting for him, because he’d be there with Pau Gasol, and he’d be in a place where what he does is something they really need. That conceivably would be a situation where he could thrive very quickly.
Hollister: What about you, Jeff? If you were Kevin Durant, would you be hoping for a Larry Brown or a Doc Rivers?
Walker: Doc Rivers. With Larry Brown, I know he works well with some players, but he also doesn’t stay around very long. For a team wanting to build around a young player, you want that coach to be there for a while.
Rosner: The concern with Durant, like most young guys, is defense. He’s a terrific shooter, he has NBA three-point range, and he can handle the ball pretty well. I’ve seen projections [that say he’ll] walk right in and average fifteen points a game, which would be really good for a rookie. But on defense, there are questions about what type of player he can guard at this stage. Some people think he has to start out guarding the bigger guys, because the smaller, quicker ones will just drive by him. That’s going to be a big adjustment.
Hollister: What about his versatility? He does so much so well and can handle all five positions. At some point will he have to specialize?
Rosner: The versatility is actually really good, because if you’ve been watching the playoffs this year, the game is changing. Golden State beat Dallas by playing four guards. You could call two of them small forwards, but basically four guys who have been guards at times. Phoenix plays that way, so from that standpoint, Durant could do really well in that type of lineup. He’ll never be a center. He’ll never be a point guard. And he may not ever be a shooting guard, if for nothing else, because of the defensive responsibilities.
Griffin: Don’t you think the most apt description, if you’re going to compare his game to a player who’s in the NBA now, is that he’s kind of a combination between Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett?
Rosner: I’ve always liked that one. The only thing he does not have is the muscle that Garnett does. Maybe he grows into that. Some people have suggested Dirk Nowitzki, although that’s not a great comparison these days. Durant’s going to be quicker and more explosive.
Hollister: So what will Durant’s legacy be at UT?
Rosner: Well, that’s a tough one. The Longhorns only won one game in the NCAA tournament. Had Durant stayed, Texas would be considered a Final Four contender next year. But from a general basketball standpoint, UT is now getting calls from players all over the country who want to be the next Durant. His legacy has been to improve the visibility of the program.
Griffin: Durant was so important to UT, for precisely that reason, that I think his jersey ought to be retired and they ought to raise his number into the rafters at the Frank Erwin Center.
Rosner: T. J. Ford made it okay for great players in Texas to come to Texas. Now Durant has given the program that kind of credibility outside the state. Almost every top kid in the country now—all the high school juniors—has Texas on his list.