Tuesday, July 05, 2016

So Many Thoughts On Durant's Decision

So, in the end Kevin Durant chose what seems to be the path of least resistance by signing with the Golden State Warriors.

The 2014 MVP will join forces with the two-time defending MVP Steph Curry as well as All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The four-time scoring champion has created an alliance with the same team who crushed his hopes of winning a title for the Thunder when the Warriors rebounded from a 3-1 series deficit to claim the Western Conference championship.

The seven-time All-Star left Oklahoma City (and spurned Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami) to play in Oakland.

And now we are left to figure out what this means for the NBA.


Six years ago, I was outraged that LeBron James would depart Cleveland to create a "Super Team" in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The NBA had always been about the alpha males doing everything in their power to raise their team to a championship level.

Larry Bird did not look to leave the Celtics for the Lakers after losing in the Finals to the Lakers in 1985 or 1987 just as Magic Johnson did not look to leave Los Angeles for Boston after losing in the Finals to the Celtics in 1985.

Bird and Magic were surrounded by great teammates, Hall of Famer talents who either were there when they came in to the NBA or were added shortly thereafter.  But none of the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, James Worthy, or Robert Parish came as a free agent.  Abdul-Jabbar was already a fixture in L.A. when Magic was drafted and Worthy came with the first overall pick in the 1982 draft which was owned by the Lakers due to their trade of Don Ford to Cleveland in 1979. McHale and Parish came to Boston as a result of Red Auerbach trading the first overall pick in the 1980 draft to the Warriors for the third pick (McHale) and Parish.

Michael Jordan had the luxury of teaming up with Scottie Pippen for the majority of his career in Chicago.  But Pippen did not sign as a free agent with the Bulls, he was drafted fifth overall in 1987 and developed alongside of Jordan before the duo led Chicago to six championships in the 1990's.

Great players do change teams, sometimes in their primes.  In my lifetime, Charles Barkley was traded to the Suns and then to the Rockets.  When he was traded to the Rockets, it was an attempt to squeeze the last years out of Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler to win a title.  It failed, mostly because all three Hall of Famers were on their last legs and didn't have enough left to win.

James going to Miami was all about him taking the easiest path to a championship after seven title-less years with the Cavaliers.  As great as a player that he is - and let's face facts, LeBron may be the most physically talented player in NBA history - his Decision to leave Cleveland behind for Miami will always serve as evidence as why he cannot be considered the greatest player in the history of the league.  The best players are supposed to be the ones that other players flock to play with and not the other way around.

LeBron did win two titles in four trips to the Finals and has since returned to Cleveland where he's added another title in two more Finals appearances.  There's no doubting his greatness as a player and he has the All-Star Games, MVP's, and championship rings to prove his greatness.

But there will always be something off about LeBron's legacy of championships.  The two in Miami just don't count the same to me.  Winning this year with Cleveland - and any subsequent championships he gets with the Cavaliers - makes up for it a little but it will never erase the stigma that he needed to join forces in free agency with Wade and Bosh to get his first two rings.

And now Kevin Durant's legacy will face the same criticisms.


I don't blame Durant as much for leaving Oklahoma City as I did James for leaving Cleveland.

Part of that is because Durant is not a native of Oklahoma like James is of Ohio.  Part of it stems from Durant seeing that his long-term future with the Thunder was tied to Russell Westbrook's and Westbrook has been viewed as likely to leave the Thunder in the Summer of 2017.  Part of it is because LeBron changed this narrative six years ago and it doesn't seem as villainous this time around.

In the age of AAU, players are always looking for the easiest opportunity to win.  Like it or not, we should have realized that with LeBron before he chose to leave Cleveland in 2010 and we should have seen it coming with Durant before he announced he was joining the Warriors yesterday.

Golden State provides Durant with the best opportunity to put NBA champion on his resume in 2017.

Just like Miami did for LeBron back in 2011.

Durant did sign what is known as a "1+1" contract, which is a two-year deal with a player opt out clause after the first season.  He most likely did this to become a free agent again next summer, when the salary cap will rise again and he can get a significant pay increase.

But maybe he did so because he wants a title immediately and then will look to go elsewhere.

We'll see.


This leaves Oklahoma City in a bad place.

Russell Westbrook will be a free agent at this time next summer and basically cannot be traded right now because he'd be financially insane to sign a contract extension with any team that would trade for him.

One crazy NBA Trade Machine deal that I came up with was a three-teamer between the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Thunder.

The Cavaliers would acquire Chris Paul from the Clippers and Enes Kanter from the Thunder. Oklahoma City would pick up Blake Griffin from the Clippers and Kyrie Irving from the Cavs.  The Clippers would end up with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.  The Thunder and Clippers would also each send Cleveland a future first round pick.

LeBron gets to finally play with Chris Paul and gets rid of Love, who he never really clicked with. Kanter would add low post scoring to Cleveland and the Cavs would also get some much needed first round picks.

The Clippers get to hit the reset button on their franchise without a massive rebuild.  Westbrook and Love get to return to Los Angeles (they both played college ball at UCLA) and the trio of Westbrook, Love, and DeAndre Jordan would keep them in contention.  Westbrook is also more likely to re-sign with the Clippers than he would be with, say, Boston (add in the 2017 and 2018 Brooklyn picks that are coming to the Celtics in this proposed trade).

Finally, Oklahoma City can rebuild around former Sooner star Griffin and NBA Finals hero Irving.


So, Durant gets to raise the Larry O'Brien trophy with the Dubs in June 2017, opts out of his deal, and signs with Boston?

If that ends up being the result of my July 4th getting ruined, I'm ok with yesterday's events.

But on a serious note. Durant is probably spending the rest of his prime in Oakland and even though the Warriors are about to become hated by the rest of the NBA for their wealth of talent, they will be a ton of fun to watch.

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