It is time that Kevin Durant gets scrutinized for his decision. Durant’s choice to join the Warriors as a free agent is no better than when LeBron James decided to join the Heat as a free agent in 2010, indeed it might be worse. The mass media has been easier on Durant this summer than it was on LeBron six years ago, and I cannot figure out why.
LeBron was criticized for announcing his decision callously on a special made-for-TV event, but at least he was real with himself. Durant announced his decision on The Players’ Tribune – a fine platform – but his reasoning seemed disingenuous.
Durant said he wanted to challenge himself as a basketball player, and as a person. I cannot speak to how this career move might challenge him as a person, but it does not take a genius to see that he just made his basketball life a lot easier. Durant will not carry the burden of responsibility – be it marketing, dealing with the media, scoring points – like he had to in Oklahoma City. All of that can be shared with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. It is unclear how he will grow as a player with those guys demanding attention on offense that was normally focused on Durant in OKC.
This was hailed as a basketball decision, and basketball-wise it was a cop-out. When you are one of the best players in the league, you are supposed to affirm that status by making your team one of the best in the league. Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP, is good enough to be considered the best player in the world. But he never got the Thunder to the very top, so he will likely never be able to indisputably make that claim. He is leaving his mission incomplete.
Too much emphasis from society and the media is put on winning championships, and understandably so. This is especially true for NBA players; it is a rite of passage for their career. After all, there are only five players on the court for one team at a time, and players can play for 75-85% of the game, so one player can have a massive impact on the game. If one player is so good, he should be able to lead his team to a championship, the thinking goes. But the key word to that thinking is lead. Durant will probably win a championship with the Warriors, but it will not be because he alone led them there. It will not be “his” championship. It will be the Super Team’s.
Moves like this undermine the competitive nature of the NBA. The worst part is we will never know how good of a basketball player Kevin Durant can be, because as long as he is on the Warriors he will always have this safety net of a Super Team to fall back on.
It could be argued that the Thunder did not do enough to put a juggernaut team around Durant, but when healthy, they were always right there. After all, they were freaking five minutes away from reaching the Finals again. No team at the time of his free agency offered a distinctly better chance for Durant to win a title – other than the Warriors of course.
Durant certainly had the right to leave OKC. It would be one thing if Durant had decided to try his hand in the Eastern Conference, and joined the upstart Boston Celtics. But joining a team that won 73 games and was one win away from winning its second consecutive championship and saying you want to be the piece that puts them over the top is like being a multi-billionaire sports team owner and having public money build you a new football stadium. The excess is off-putting.
Durant is clearly a guy who should be a main piece, not the get-you-over-the-hump piece. The over-the-top piece for the Warriors was Andre Iguodala when he signed in the summer of 2013. Two years later the Warriors climbed over the top and won a championship. Now, because they came up just short of another championship and the salary cap historically spiked, they have added another “piece.”
In fact, the ending to the 2016 playoffs was the perfect storm for the Warriors to get Durant. Had the Thunder toppled the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and then won in the Finals, Durant would have stayed as a hero. Had the Warriors finished off their historic season, they would have still tried for Durant, but all the reasons he had, albeit bogus ones, for joining the Dubs would not exist (Maybe he still would have joined them anyway, who knows).
Make no mistake this Warriors team will be fun to watch. All their best players are good and willing passers, Durant will fit right in. Their shooting could reach a historic mark, and they will challenge for 74 wins. They may have some problems clicking in the first ten games or so, but they should be good enough to still win most of those games. Barring injury, we will see the zenith of basketball at the highest level. And at some point a championship will be inevitable, the suspense will be gone, and we will all hate them again.