Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard Helped Pick James Harden’s Replacement for Team USA: Report

Bleacher Report Mar 9, 2018; Portland, OR, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) talks to Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during an officials time out during the second half during a game at the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers won 125-108. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

With their 2020-21 season now in the rearview mirror, the Nets are looking ahead to 2022 and a busy offseason this summer. Kevin Durant, meanwhile, is looking ahead to Tokyo.

After starring for Brooklyn in the playoffs earlier this month, Durant has turned his attention to Team USA and the Summer Olympics. Durant has been vital to Team USA over the past decade, playing at the 2010 Worlds and winning gold in 2012 and 2016. And he’s been at the centerpiece of this summer’s squad — in more ways than one.

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Durant, Damian Lillard Played Important Recruiting Roles for Team USA

Durant averaged 34.3 points (on 51.4 shooting from the field and 40.2 percent shooting from 3-point range), 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the playoffs this year. He likely won’t bring those types of numbers to a Team USA squad that is overflowing with talent, but he’ll certainly contribute significantly.

In fact, he already has.

Durant and Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard played important roles in recruiting others to play for Team USA this summer, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. That, in part, is how Detroit’s Jerami Grant wound up on Team USA in place of Nets star James Harden, who opted out.

Windhorst details more about the extent of Durant and Lillard’s involvement as recruiters in a recent piece for ESPN:

Lillard and Durant began working alongside (head coach Gregg) Popovich and (managing director Jerry) Colangelo in recruiting players and consulting on how the roster would be put together, sources said. Lillard began talking to other players who were on the fence about committing as May and June unfolded.

A factor in the choice was Durant and Lillard lobbying Popovich on Grant’s behalf, sources said. In the end, having the legendary coach and his willingness to be collaborative with the team’s superstars might’ve been the most powerful recruiting tool Team USA had working.

“Pop matters,” a USA Basketball source said. “Guys really want to play for him.”

Grant averaged only 12 points per game in 2019-20 but saw his usage and production skyrocket this past season. He averaged 22.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 33.9 minutes per game for the Pistons in 2020-21.

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Colangelo Raves About Durant

On a conference call with reporters on Monday, Colangelo recalled some of his earliest impressions of Durant. What was true then about the 11-time All-Star is still true now.

“This guy is a very, very special individual in my opinion,” Colangelo said. “I met him when he was a freshman at Texas and thinking about leaving school and going into the draft. I remember meeting him at the Final Four and invited him to come to our training camp. And his eyes were big as you could imagine, he was so excited, he said, ‘I’ll be there.’ So he has always had this great enthusiasm for USA Basketball, for playing the game of basketball, he has always been, in my opinion, a real warrior. I love the guy as a player, I love him as a person. The fact that he stepped up as he did to commit himself didn’t surprise me. I was very, very pleased because he is a very, very important part of our potential success.”

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