Kevin Durant is always shopping for a legacy. He can't seem to buy one.
He says he isn't moved by such things, or by talk of being basketball's GOAT, Greatest of All Time. But his actions scream something else entirely: An obsession with being LeBron James.
Durant has made all his moves and done all he can to be seen as the leader of this generation. He has made the big shots, won two championships. After sinking the game-winning shot over LeBron to pull within one game of winning the 2017 championship, Durant joyfully said that LeBron had "passed the torch'' to him.
Durant's moves never seem right, never quite work.
This is his chance.
He is leading the U.S. Olympic basketball team, which has a historical legacy of its own in jeopardy. It was only a few weeks ago in an Olympic warmup that the U.S. lost to Nigeria, with Durant saying to give Nigeria credit for playing well.
Uh, no. Americans will never accept losing a basketball game to Nigeria, never understand how Durant could've let that happen.
The U.S. lost to Australia in a warmup, too, and then lost to France in the first round in Tokyo.
The U.S. has managed to improve — mostly because of Durant and weak opponents — and will play Spain Tuesday (shortly after midnight Eastern Time) in the quarterfinals.
Durant can't hide behind Steph Curry anymore, or James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Maybe for the first time, his legacy is naked in front of the basketball world.
This should be everything he has dreamed of. If not, then he's a fraud. We'll know by Friday, after the gold medal game.
My pick is that he'll do it. Durant will win his third Olympic gold, one more than LeBron has, and he'll do it while LeBron is back home promoting "Space Jam 2."
It will be the best look Durant has ever had.
This is a team and program without a definition. U.S. basketball has gone from amateurs to the Dream Team of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. When the next generation of pros lost interest, and the U.S. lost the gold medal, a new system was put in to drive commitment under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
That system is gone now, Krzyzewski is gone, many of the top players decided not to show up.
LeBron, who stands up for his version of America any chance he gets, decided this summer, instead, to stand up for "Space Jam," promoting his movie and leaving Tokyo to ...
That's right: Durant. This is his team. USA basketball is Durant's.
The criticism so far has been focused on coach Gregg Popovich. That's fine. The team hasn't dominated since Popovich took over. Players have grumbled about his offense.
After all that Popovich did in the NBA, five NBA championships and three coach of the year awards, his legacy is actually being challenged, too. The Olympics will do that to you, just ask John Thompson. For all Thompson's success as a college coach, social changer, and great human being, he had a hard time living down the 1988, bronze-medal Olympic team. A team flawed by a lack of outside shooting finished in third place. Thompson was never forgiven. America sent Michael, Larry, and Magic to the next Olympics.
The current team is lacking a strong presence under the basket. Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton all showed up at the last minute after the NBA Finals.
If a team can be rag-tag with a bunch of NBA players, then this is it. Durant scored just 10 points in the opening loss to France and didn't seem overly interested.
For some reason, critics found relief in the U.S.' blowout win over Iran. But the blowout over the Czech Republic, with Durant scoring 23, started to resemble an actual team playing as if it cares.
Durant is going to have to take this over from here. By chasing super teams all the time, it's never clear if he can do that.
In the 2016 Western Conference Finals, Durant and Oklahoma City blew a 3-1 series lead over Golden State. Durant then left for a ready-made championship team, Golden State, seemingly thinking titles there would build him a legacy.
Instead, he won two titles that were seen as Curry's. So Durant chased another super team, joining Irving and Harden in Brooklyn.
When Brooklyn lost Game 7 to Milwaukee in the playoffs this year, Scottie Pippen, an all-time great and former Jordan teammate, told GQ that Durant was no LeBron. Pippen said that LeBron would've found a way to win that game. Durant fired back on Twitter, ridiculing Pippen for his playing days.
The U.S. team still has more talent than anyone else. Durant is three games from a legacy. It's no "Space Jam," but Olympic gold will do.