CHICAGO – Not a lot of Jay-Z fans here. At least not among the U.S. federation.
They aren’t exactly burning his CDs, but they are enumerating the burned bridges as the fallout from Kevin Durant’s abrupt departure from the U.S. national team continues to spread.
Team USA is only the latest entity to be left with a sour taste after dealing with Durant and his latest agent. The folks at Nike aren’t exactly happy. The folks at Gatorade already were unhappy.
“It’s like Jay-Z is determined to do a scorched earth negotiation with everyone Kevin Durant is currently aligned with, and they aren’t doing him any favors,” one source close to Durant told SheridanHoops on Friday as Team USA prepared for its first exhibition game in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.
On the court Saturday night at the United Center, the game will be all about Derrick Rose’s return to action. Unless, of course, something happens that relegates Rose to an afterthought.
A loss to Brazil would do that.
And the thinking here is that Team USA is ripe to be picked off after having just two days to install an entirely new offensive game plan following Durant’s withdrawal from the team. Or to use a better word, which I have already done: Quit.
Yes, Durant quit the team.
It is semantics, but “withdrew” is reserved for players who told the federation before training camp began that they would not be attending. If you attended camp in Las Vegas, and if you called coach Mike Krzyzewski to ask for advice on how to be a “leader” when camp resumed in Chicago, and then you blindside Coach K and every other member of the national team, you have “quit.”
And folks out there need to stop giving Durant a free pass on this. Find me one national columnist for a mainstream media outlet who has blasted Durant for leaving Team USA. Go ahead, just one. Your search will be fruitless, because that columnist is unicornish. He or she does not exist.
Well, no free pass here.
What Kevin Durant did was shameful.
And what I have discovered in talking to members of the U.S. federation over the past two days is this: Durant and his agency, Roc Nation, are more interested in cashing in on his MVP award and his expiring Nike deal than they are in having Durant keep his word to the people who were with him in 2010 in Turkey at the World Championship and in 2012 in London at the Olympics.
Team director Jerry Colangelo said he could see signs in Las Vegas that Durant was distracted. Krzyzewski reiterated Friday that Durant’s actions blindsided everyone.
“Looking back, if you could turn back time. you would like for him to make that decision before Vegas. We might have invited somebody different,” Krzyzewski said. “But saying that, that’s in the past, we’re forward, and it puts us a little behind, just like the injuries.”
More from Krzyzewski, in an exclusive interview with SheridanHoops:
“I think he had a good camp, not a great camp,” the coach added. “He was not as vocal as he usually was. Even after Paul (George’s) injury, he was saying ‘What can we do when we go to Chicago to get the guys to rally?’ So that’s the reason we were caught unexpected. I asked him to be a leader, and he was leading after the Vegas game.
“And then he wasn’t with us. ”
Durant spent Wednesday at the headquarters of UnderArmour, which is reportedly offering him a $325 million, 10-year deal to leave Nike. A source told SheridanHoops that adidas is making an under-the-radar push to sign Durant, too, when his current deal with Nike expires Sept. 30 – the eve of training camp for the upcoming NBA season.
Since signing with Jay-Z, Durant already has ended his affiliation with Gatorade to sign with Sparkling Ice. That happened nearly a year ago, with Gatorade curtly announcing that Durant’s deal would not be renewed.
Durant has been with Nike since entering the NBA, and Nike has a close affiliation with USA Basketball and FIBA. Clearly, there would be some discomfort if Durant decided to leave Nike at a time when he was scheduled to be traveling to Grand Canaria, Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid on a three-week overseas trip where he would be riding on the same bus with numerous Nike executives. That dynamic surely played a part in his decision to quit the team.
But industry insiders said there remains a possibility that Durant will ultimately renew his deal with Nike. Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, he was seen playing high-stakes blackjack with Nike executive Lynn Merritt at the Wynn Resort.
A couple days later, the news of the UnderArmour negotiations went public.
So what’s next?
For Durant, who knows? Again, his apologists in the national mainstream media will tell you this is no big deal.
I am here to tell you it is indeed a big deal.
Durant’s public image can go one of two ways: Up or down. Everyone who knows him well will tell you he is a great guy. But he has changed agents twice since entering the NBA, starting with Aaron Goodwin, moving to Rob Pelinka (who reps Kobe Bryant) and then signing with Jay-Z.
I have heard more about Durant’s inner circle – and the feuds and fallout he is experiencing – than I am comfortable reporting. But I will say this: All is not well with the reigning MVP. Far from it. What we are seeing now is the manifestation of that dysfunction.
He QUIT the national team.
He shouldn’t have.
We all make mistakes. Durant is making one now. The blame is being placed on Jay-Z.
In Jay-Z’s world, Kevin Durant can become the next R0binson Cano. In the real world, Kevin Durant is 10 times more marketable than Robinson Cano. Does Kevin know that? Jay-Z does. But do you think he is telling that to KD?
Let’s see where this goes from here. I am not a gambling man (unless we are talking poker), but I would imagine Brazil will cover Saturday night. Brazil is loaded.
And if Team USA loses Saturday night, remember this: There is no chance of the Americans losing again until they play their semifinal match in Barcelona against Lithuania. The remainder of the team is pretty darned good.
But they are not a lock to win the gold.
And Jay-Z is a big part of the reason why.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every senior U.S. men’s national team since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Follow him on Twitter.