The night San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard won Finals MVP, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant tweeted that Indiana Pacers forward Paul George was better than Leonard. Responding to someone who said Leonard was better than George, Durant said Leonard was "doing work like this because of the system." It turned into a story.
The Thunder host the Spurs on Saturday, and now his matchup with Leonard is a much bigger deal -- this is the best offensive forward in the NBA against the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. After Oklahoma City's 113-91 win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday, Durant drew laughs from the media when he said Leonard was not a system player, but went on to say he didn't regret what he said on Twitter. Here's the exchange, via Sneaker Reporter's Travis Singleton:
Has your matchup with Kawhi become one of those matchups you really look forward to, like the Paul Georges, the LeBrons of the league?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. He’s definitely grown as a player. He’s not a system player. I know you guys like to throw that term around. But, he’s just grown so much as a player. I have to be locked in every play. He can shoot the midrange, he can post up, he can shoot the 3, he can dribble and he’s just grown so much as a player. Defensively, probably one of the best guys in the league. So, it’s fun. It’s fun when you get that matchup at the small forward. It’s so many great guys, but he’s one of the guys that’s in the top 10.
You mentioned it. Do you regret that tweet at all a few years ago?
No, I don’t. I mean, at the time, I didn’t even call him a system player. I just said Paul George is better, I like Paul George better as a player. I can be a fan of the game, too. And one of my guys was debating with me and said that he was better than Paul George at the time, and I didn’t think so. You know, I’m not taking it back. I said the system is the reason why he’s out there, Pop put him in great positions to be the player that he is. So, no, I don’t regret it at all. You know, he’s grown. It’s three years ago. If he hasn’t grown, that’s on him. But he’s grown as a player. And yeah, I don’t take it back.
It's telling that Durant said it was three years ago when it was actually less than two. Leonard's rise from role player to superstar has been extraordinary. Back in 2013-14, he averaged 12.8 points in the regular season. You could see him expanding his game, but there was skepticism that he could do what he did in the Finals consistently. It turns out that he could, but it took a little while for people to realize what was happening. Part of that is probably that the quiet Leonard doesn't carry himself like a typical franchise player.
Durant doesn't need to be shamed for his old comments about Leonard, and it's fair that he didn't want to take them back. Given how Leonard has developed, though, it's hard to imagine a system in which he wouldn't look like one of the best players on the planet.