Kyrie Irving is leaving the only NBA team he’s ever known and heading to a new city. Kevin Durant knows something about that. To get his perspective on the Kyrie–Isaiah Thomas deal, Bill Simmons brought KD onto the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Why He Thinks Kyrie Wanted to Leave
Kevin Durant: I heard Richard Jefferson say something that was really, really interesting. What he said was [that] Kyrie is just a pure basketball player. He crafted his skill since he was like 8, 9 years old. You can just tell, the way he plays, nobody plays like him. So he’s a pure basketball player. He probably played playground ball, his pops probably took him to the roughest neighborhoods and threw him out there on the basketball court, told him to just go play. So he built up the love for the game.
When you’re around LeBron James, there’s so much that comes with that. Outside distractions and conversations and just noise that just comes around just from being around LeBron James. And Kyrie was at the point, like, “All right, we lost the championship, this whole season’s gonna be about if LeBron’s gonna leave or not. I’m ready for a new challenge.” All that stuff kind of met at the pinnacle of why he wanted to leave, and it just felt like he wanted a situation where he would just be free from all of that and just play.
It’s a perfect system for him in Boston; it’s a perfect fit. Because he’s a 6-foot-3 Isaiah Thomas, basically, and Isaiah just thrived in that system, and then he got Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, who are gonna be able to make plays for him, too. It’s gonna be pretty sweet. I think it was a great deal. But I just think Kyrie just wanted a place where he can focus on just playing basketball and not worrying about the other drama that comes with.
Bill Simmons: You can identify with that, right?
Durant: Oh, for sure. When you just love to play the game, the NBA kind of adds so much baggage on top of it from the business side to the media. And when you just wanna play and not worry about that stuff, you try to find a place where you can do that, and Kyrie, I’m sure he had to know that he was going to Boston. He wasn’t blindsided at all. I’m sure he was OK with going to Boston.
Simmons: I’m sure there was a couple teams that were sniffing around. His agent can control it. [He can say] “I’m not gonna re-sign there in two years,” that kind of stuff.
Durant: Exactly. He had a little bit of control. And that’s a great organization, winning organization, great coach. He did what he was supposed to do in Cleveland. It’s on to the next chapter. I can really appreciate what he did. He stood up for himself, he showed a lot of courage, man, because it’s hard to take that type of criticism. When you just want to play ball. I feel him on that.
There Is No Loyalty Left in the NBA
Simmons: At the same time I loved Isaiah Thomas. You took all this shit when you left Oklahoma City and went to Golden State. It was like, “You weren’t loyal to Oklahoma City,” and now, this is the flip side of it. This is Isaiah Thomas, who became a franchise guy in Boston, who played hurt, who played the day after his sister died or two days after, comes in, plays two playoff series in a row with that screwed-up hip, and was a great Celtic and people loved him and everyone wore his jerseys and they just traded him. So, there is no loyalty in sports is the moral of the story.
Durant: I thought we all knew that.
Simmons: I don’t think people did.
Durant: Like for real, I thought we knew that. It’s been happening for years. Guys have been getting traded in their sleep for years. Guys have been getting the shitty end of the stick for years. I mean, some guys have been fucking over organizations too. It’s no loyalty. It’s business. There’s money involved.
Those relationships that you have with trainers and teammates and anybody in the organization, that’s loyalty. That’s friendship. That’s relationship. That’s something that’s gonna last forever. But when it comes to numbers on a paper, at the end of the day, that trumps everything. “Does this dude fit into our salary cap or into our plans? Nah, let’s see what we can get for him.” Like, that’s just a part of the game.
Simmons: But you didn’t know that when you came into the league in ‘07?
Durant: I thought it was like 50/50, with emotion and business. Like, “I won’t trade this guy. I’ve been knowing him for like nine years.” But then at the end of the day it’s like, “No, we need this spot, or we need this money. We gotta move him. At the end of the day, he’s gonna get it. It’s a part of the business.” Nowadays, when players leave, it’s just part of the business.
Does Durant Still Think Kyrie Is Better than Allen Iverson?
Durant: I wasn’t comparing, like, stories and legacies. A lot of people came at me on Twitter like, “Iverson led this team with nobody, no stars, to the Finals.” I’m like, “All right, that’s a team thing.” I’m talking about individual players, and if you look at down the line, I’m not talking about leadership and clutch; that stuff is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about: Can you dribble, pass, can you shoot? How many moves you got?
Durant: Efficiency. Who’s better at that stuff? The other stuff, you’ll figure that stuff out, that’s a good debate on Twitter. But you talk about straight basketball skills, that’s what I was talking about.
Why Kyrie Reminds Durant of Himself
Simmons: And Kyrie has somehow weirdly become underrated even though he was in three straight Finals. I was making the case for him before the Celtics traded for him, just because, I was going to those games, and this is one of the reasons this came up last time. I was like, “This guy’s amazing.” And you see it in person. He never gets blocked, as you pointed out. The degree of difficulty of the shots he makes. I’m excited to see him a little bit more unleashed. … You don’t think there’s a small part of it where he hears, “Of course Kyrie’s good, he plays with LeBron. That’s why he’s good.” I mean, he’s gotta hear that.
Durant: I’m sure he hears stuff. I mean, it’s hard. … It’s hard to quiet that noise, but at the end of the day, you still gotta go play every day, so you wanna have a good environment where you wanna play as far as, you want some type of structure, you wanna learn the game at a different level, you wanna kind of challenge yourself to fit in with the team and use your skill set a different way. Kyrie reminds me of myself, just from the outside looking in. I may be wrong on all these things, but from the outside looking in, I’ve been around him for a month or so, he reminds me of myself as far as just loving to play the game, just wanting to learn it and try to get better at it every day. I can feel that, I can sense that in him.
Simmons: One thing I’ve learned from at least spending a little time with basketball players over the years, you can sense when certain guys carry a level of respect with the players versus guys like me who aren’t out there playing. But there’s certain guys where the other guys are like, “No, that guy’s legit.” There’s something about that guy. And it seems like Kyrie has had that for a while, where in the community, he carried a weight.
Durant: Kyrie got really a cult following amongst the players, and the younger generation. They love Kyrie.
Simmons: The shoes help, I think the shoes have been popular.
Durant: The shoes, but just his game, I’m telling you, his game is so fun to watch. It’s so shifty, like, what is he going to do next? They love him.