Just weeks after losing to him in the NBA Finals, KD is trying to win a gold medal alongside LeBron James. Naturally being the competitor that Durant is, the transition from being LeBron’s opponent to his teammate has been difficult. He isn’t the only player that’s been forced to focus on the Olympics following a finals loss, though.
Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press reported that Durant admitted it bothers him to see James’ face at practice every day (via The Florida Times-Union):
It does. It does, but what can I do? He’s my teammate now. I’m a team player. I can’t let that affect this. This is bigger than that. It’s tough to lose in the finals and play the guy you’ve been going up against for five games who beat you. So me, I’m just going to get over it, still be a great teammate, come out and play hard.
Back in 2008, Bryant had to quickly forget his loss to the Boston Celtics in the finals to prepare for the Beijing Olympics. He told reporters that he understands what Durant is going through. But Kobe also said that KD is being challenged with something a bit more difficult than what he faced four summers ago (via The Florida Times-Union):
I wasn’t playing on the Olympic team with, you know, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and [Kevin] Garnett. He’s got to look at LeBron every day. I didn’t have to do that. So I don’t know if I could do that. I’d probably be trying to destroy him every single day in practice to try to, I don’t know, take a little of the edge off maybe.
Durant has confidence in himself that he’ll be able to stomach competing with LeBron as opposed to against him, but Kobe continued to rant about how he’d struggle to do the same, even with a player that he was close to.
“Being the friends thing, I mean that’s fine," Bryant said. "Once you start playing, I’d really, I’d have to go after him. There’s just no way.”
Durant isn’t the flat-out killer that Bryant is. He’s nicer. In theory, he should be able to handle teaming up with LeBron easier than Kobe would.
But when it’s all said and done, the rivalry between Durant and LeBron—not Spain, not another international powerhouse—will ultimately be Team USA’s greatest obstacle in the 2012 Olympics.
Whether Durant believes that winning a gold medal for America is more important than winning a Larry O’Brien Trophy for the Oklahoma City Thunder or not, he’s committed far more time and effort to OKC than the red, white and blue over the past year.
Russell Westbrook, James Harden and company are his closest teammates. Durant fought with those teammates for six straight months to earn a Finals berth. The ring that he and his teammates were so hungry for was within reach, but James snatched it out of his grasp.
No matter how hard he tries, Durant’s bond with LeBron will never be as strong as it is with his Thunder teammates. His loyalty won’t allow him to forget that James is the enemy—that will always be embedded in the back of his mind. Hopefully the fact that Westbrook and Harden are going through the same pain will help Durant fight through it.
Expect Team USA to roll to another gold-medal victory. But if it falls short, you better believe KD and LeBron’s inability to mesh was part of the collapse.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.