The changing Kevin Durant

The marketing campaign around Kevin Durant the last few seasons has been around his niceness or lack thereof.

Durant has always been a baby face. A mild-mannered, humble guy who is a lethal assassin with a basketball court without all the show-boaty, teammate-ruining glory of some of the other superstars player. He was a superstar without an ego, in so many ways it seems. Certainly Durant has that inner fire and ego to be great or he would not be where he was. But his MVP acceptance speech drives home the humility within him.

Nike played around with that with the “KD is Not Nice” ads which became a Twitter meme whenever Durant did something filthy.

It is hard to find any fault with Durant or his character. He is a good guy and a great player. No chest-thumping here.

Images though can change very quickly. Just ask Dwight Howard or LeBron James.

And Durant’s image appears to be taking a strange turn as he approaches free agency for the first time in two years.

His sudden withdrawal from Team USA has whispers going that Durant and his new agency, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, are making power plays to increase Durant’s leverage for free agency in marketing, at least, and burning bridges with several of his former partners in business (via Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops):

“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.

These are just whispers at this point. Whispers that Durant, at least, initially denied. He is sticking to his exhaustion and fatigue story. But his reasons for leaving Team USA still do not feel completely right.

This comment seems very much in line with the way Durant has negotiated with Under Armour on a reported record shoe deal after years with Nike. Nike is the king of the food chain and Durant has been its featured athlete. Surely, they can match anything Under Armour sends his way. That might be what Roc Nation is going for in handling Durant’s business.

The important thing for everyone is that Durant play and play well. If he does that, then everything takes care of itself.

Free agency does have the tendency to change people. Especially ring-less people.

The pressure is way up on Durant and the Thunder to win a championship now. Or else, the Thunder could be next in Roc Nation’s crosshairs.

Who is to say whether Kevin Durant is driving these reported tactics in making his final decision. Maybe he is a passive voice on the method of achieving his goals.

Then again, it does say something that he hired the brash upstart in Roc Nation to represent him — even with the branding opportunities and “prestige” Jay-Z might bring with him. You do not make that hire without wanting something.

Durant has certainly changed. It is pretty clear now he is not the baby-face he once was. Just not ready to say he is officially “not nice.”

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily