'Tis the season for Phil Jackson to scratch out checks. Earlier in the month, he was fined 35 grand for calling out referee Bennett Salvatore's unpredictability. Well, his wallet's now light another $35K for expressing the opinion young Kevin Durant has already earned a sizable degree of referee love despite so few years in the league.
And hey, if anyone should be considered an expert on the matter, it's Phil. Dude spent years coaching Michael Jordan -or as Kevin Garnett calls him, "Michael (bleeping) Jordan"- who practically invented superstar deference.
Predictably, Stu Jackson and the gang sent the Zen Master an invoice. Were I Phil, I'd ask to just run a tab, then write one big check at the end of the playoffs. Makes balancing the bank book way easier. Or a bar bill. Not that I would know, of course.
Brian wrote earlier today about the gamesmanship of Jackson's remarks, whether towards the referees or even his own team. What's interesting beyond that, however, is Durant's reaction. While the kid was plenty respectful towards his elder, it's clear he took these remarks very personally, classifying them as "disrespecting" his game. Upon reading that, I immediately remembered Durant is, in fact, a 21-year old kid. At an age where you're especially susceptible for these kind of mind games. As opposed to a veteran.
Not all veteran skins are created with equal thickness, of course. Shaquille O'Neal remained among the league's most oversensitive players well into his 30's. Stephen Jackson will act like a complete baby if you don't acknowledge him as an adult. Kenyon Martin will take anything as an insult. But on the whole, I doubt the average veteran would care nearly as much about PJ's remarks. At the very least, they'd recognize what Jackson was doing and not take the bait publicly in a way making it plainly apparent they cared.
Example: Kobe Bryant wouldn't bat an eye in this situation. He'd just smile, offer up a reasonably clever one-liner, then go about his business, which is typically going out and destroying whatever team features said detractor. But he'd definitely go out of his way to portray indifference.
Our man Henry Abbott over at the True Hoop was impressed by the way Durant mixed politeness with a vote of confidence in the refs' ability not to be swayed. ("They’re smarter than that, and they have more skills than that as refs.") I get Abbott's point and Durant certainly took a clever angle. But I also think it was the equivalent of a bad poker bluff, with Durant having already revealed his hole cards by taking Jackson's words to heart. He'd never convince me to fold my hand, because I'd know what was really behind the exterior. Whatever effect Durant's remarks have or don't have on the refs becomes secondary if PJ learns he can get inside the kid's head.
Durant's virgin foray into the postseason won't just be about adjusting to hyped atmospheres, more physicality, raised stakes, increased attention, media dolts droning on about how he's not ready, etc. Mental gamesmanship also comes into play. That could be an eye opener, especially when the guy on the other end of the brain is Phil Jackson.
For the time being, it's old school 1, new jacks, 0. It wouldn't surprise me if PJ's already thinking about more ways to rattle the youngest leading scorer in NBA history.