On July 4th, 2016 Kevin Durant made a decision on his free agency. Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay Area, signing with the Golden State Warriors for two years, $54.3 million, which includes the opt-out after year one. The player option is for Kevin Durant to sign a bigger contract next summer, when his ten years of service in the NBA will make him eligible for a higher max. He may sign another “one plus one” deal then and wait until he can ink a five year super-max to commit long term to this team, but the point is that barring something completely insane happening, Kevin Durant is a Warrior for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Durant is about to be a part of what should be the greatest team of all time. This is the first time since maybe the Russell Celtics that a team has had four of the top fifteen or so players in the league (and back then there were only 8 teams). That group also includes two of the top three players in the NBA, the last two guys to win MVP, three of the best probably four shooters in the league. And guess what, I’m not going to criticize Kevin Durant for it. Good for him.
Professional sports are a very romanticized thing by fans. There’s a certain something about one team players; the guys who stick it out with one franchise and win multiple titles. They’re usually heralded as among the best at their craft, and more often then not this is a fair assessment. Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Mario Lemieux, and even guys like Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, and Peyton Manning spent their entire youth and primes on one team. They gave everything they had to their respective cities, and all of them are multiple time champions (even though Manning did win his second in Denver).
And it feels like Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder should have won multiple titles. They made the Western Conference Finals four out of the last six years, and the only times they missed it there were injuries to Durant or Westbrook. They were a perennial powerhouse, a top three team in the league most years, and it never worked out in the end. Championships are a little more luck based than people want to admit, out of the last 37 NBA Champions, only two have seen rotation guys (25+ minutes) miss multiple games. Yes a top five team usually wins, but it’s usually the healthiest team or whoever’s playing the best. The Thunder happened to never be that team. The Warriors should be that team next year. They even could be that team with an injury to a key player.
Guess who else was never that team lucky enough to be healthy and peaking in the playoffs? The Utah Jazz. Karl Malone won two MVPs, had 11 All NBA First Team Selections and Three All Defensive Selections. He’s second all time in scoring, has started more games than anyone else, and averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game on 51.6% shooting from the field and 74.2% free throw shooting. He played 19 seasons, speaking to his longevity, and is almost universally regarded as someone who is not a top ten player of all time (NBA rank is a survey of a large amount of ESPN writers, TV personalities, experts, etc. and they ranked the top 100 players of all time this season). How is this possible you might ask? He never won a title. He was also paired with a historically great point guard on a small market team who you feel like should’ve stolen at least one from the Bulls or Rockets, but things just never broke their way.
Kevin Durant didn’t want to be that guy. He didn’t want to have to carry a Thunder team with one other star when he could go play with three. If you’re going to race with someone and they say: “You can either strap a thirty or fifty pound weight to you before the race” you would almost certainly choose the thirty pound weight. Because it’s easier. And you’re probably going to win if you’re racing against someone with a fifty pound weight strapped to them. LeBron and Kyrie each have fifth pound weights strapped to themselves. Russ and KD had that last season. But now the big four in Golden State will all have to carry smaller weights than that.
Take all of the emotion out of it for a second. Kevin Durant chose to go to the best company in his industry, where he can earn more money do less work, and be more successful. Not to mention that he’s moving to a much bigger and objectively “nicer” city. Durant spends all of his offseasons in LA, it’s not to crazy to think that Silicon Valley may catch his eye a little more than Oklahoma City. If this were any profession that wasn’t professional sports, everyone would be ecstatic for Kevin (although less people would probably care).
If you want to call Durant weak or a coward, go ahead. I’m not saying you can’t or don’t have the right to. But do note that this is the move most commonly taken by people like Stephen A. Smith. The people who are routinely made fun of for flying off the handle and firing their hot take cannon at every headline they see. The people who make things much more about emotion than statistics or facts, who put logic well behind their feelings. If you really want to be one of those people, go for it.
Also, please don’t make this about two tweets Durant sent out in ’09 and ’10, where he stated in one he wanted to be on the Thunder for life and the other lamented how everyone wanted to go to Miami and LA to team up and win titles. If you’re okay with judging someone’s personality and character on two posts on social media from six and seven years ago, that’s fine although it might not be too fair.
If you think that this diminishes Durant’s legacy, I also think you’re wrong. The same NBA rank that put Karl Malone 16th all-time, also ranked LeBron James the third best player of all time. Before he won this title in Cleveland. The same LeBron James who left Cleveland for a better situation in Miami, who was constantly criticized at the time for taking the “easiest route” to a championship. Guess how much all of that ended up hurting his legacy? It didn’t. As long as Kevin Durant continues to put up great numbers, he will still be regarded as one of the best players in the league, which he is. This move in no way affects Durant’s ability to play basketball, and one could argue it actually might maximize his skills.
Durant sacrificed a lot this season in Oklahoma City. A big sacrifice Durant made was coming out earlier in games. Whenever Donovan wanted to start staggering Westbrook and Durant’s minutes to keep at least one of them on the court at all times, it was Durant coming out at the five or six minute mark and Westbrook coming out after Durant was rested. This may not seem like a big sacrifice, but stuff like this matters to players. Durant cared that Westbrook was prioritized over him, something that was also reflected in this year’s All-NBA teams where Durant only made the second team and Westbrook made the first team.
After struggling at the beginning of the year, Kevin Durant also sacrificed some of his touches for the team. Coach Billy Donovan started skewing the pick and roll opportunities Westbrook’s way. It didn’t really hurt Durant’s scoring, but it did affect his touches. Westbrook dominated the ball more, and while Durant did feed off a large amount of isolation and post up play, he would spend a lot of plays hanging out at the three point line. Westbrook was 7th in the league touches per game in the regular season and 2nd in the league in touches per game in the postseason. Durant, by comparison, was 48 in touches per game in the regular season and 24th in the league in touches per game in the postseason. That’s a big difference. I don’t know if Durant is opposed to playing with a player who dominates the ball, a report came out that he didn’t like playing with Westbrook ,and ex-teammate James Harden, another ball dominant guard, couldn’t even get his team a meeting with Durant.
I got a pretty decent amount of texts about the Durant saga, including Lil B song “F*ck KD”, texts of mad people, and texts asking if I’m mad that Durant left my favorite player to play on a fringe playoff team for one of his prime years. And quite frankly, I’m really not. He made the best decision for his career, deciding to go join the favorite instead of a team with a chance at winning a title. I wish him the best and hope that he does finally win multiple championships. He gave OKC a lot over nine years, and probably actually more than ownership was willing to give to him. Ownership was constantly unwilling to go all-in on the Thunder because they were more focused with turning a profit . In 2014 OKC was the 5th most profitable team in the NBA, going $29 million in the green, which also happened to be a better profit than for either team that was in the finals. Granted, even much richer ownership like that of Miami and Brooklyn have made moves to not pay the repeater tax, but they weren’t true contenders the last two years. We’ve seen Dan Gilbert have no problem paying out the ass to build a special Cavaliers team that just won a Championship. But the point is that since the Harden trade, the Thunder ownership has been constantly looked at as a group that would rather make money than win. Golden State will probably go well into the tax next year when Curry is eligible for a new contract. And that’s fine with them.
At the end of the day, I’m not mad about the Durant decision. If you are, that’s fine and you by all means can be upset. But after looking at all of it, I find it hard to be unless you’re looking at it from a purely emotional standpoint. I hope that this helps you look at it slightly more objectively, and if not, oh well.
*Also, if you defended LeBron during The Decision, I hope you’re also defending Kevin Durant now. If you didn’t, I hope that maybe you’ve learned a lesson since then and will stop attaching stars who make moves that are good for their career.