Tha Sports Junkies 101

Did Kevin Durant Just Ruin The NBA’s Regular Season

Durant Photo by Stan mark via Flickr

NBA Free Agency

Did Kevin Durant Just Ruin The NBA’s Regular Season?

July 8, 2010 will forever be remembered by NBA addicts as the day the league changed. LeBron James held a now infamous 75 minute special from Greenwich, Connecticut dubbed “The Decision”. That was the day LBJ decided to “take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”

Reaction around the league was rampant. It seemed as if anyone and everyone had an opinion.

Elite players, including Kevin Durant had their say on the matter. On July 16, 2010, a week and change after LeBron’s decision was made, KD tweeted “Now everybody wanna play for the Heat or the Lakers. Let’s go back to being competitive and going back at these peoples.”

I will remember this day for the mere fact that it began an era in which franchise level talent elected to join forces with other elite players. Until this point, franchise players customarily chose to lead their squad against other elite players, their rivals. It fostered competition at its highest order. LBJ was panned by fans nationwide, with the exception of Miami. His choice of team was perceived as an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, mindset that is now widespread in today’s game.

Fast forward almost six years to the day, and Kevin Durant is himself now a Free Agent. Durant has spent his entire nine year career up to this point playing for the Seattle/OKC franchise.

Winning started slowly for Durant, as the organization formerly known as the Seattle Sonics would build a formidable team around him via the NBA Draft.

Durant would be joined by Russell Westbrook a short time later. Westbrook came out of UCLA viewed by many as a project combo guard with other worldly athleticism. Westbrook developed quickly into a franchise player in his own right, and the two would go on to form one of the most potent offensive duos in league history.

Many high quality players, including Houston’s James Harden, would join KD and Westbrook throughout their run together. Harden was sent to Houston in a trade that had to be made for nothing more than financial reasons. As Harden’s star ascended, General Manager Sam Presti knew he could not afford to pay Harden his league value at that time and keep the team intact.

The popularity of the league and the TV money that comes along with it has changed the landscape of all 30 teams and the way they spend their money. The salary cap for the upcoming season has swollen to $94 million per team, and those numbers are only expected to rise in the next few seasons. Translation: all 30 NBA teams have money burning a hole in their proverbial pockets.

Sam Presti, one of the most intelligent, shrewd GM’s in the NBA, was ever aware of the cap situation and what his team needed to reach unprecedented heights. OKC ended its season one win away from a second trip to the NBA Finals. On draft night, Presti pulled the trigger on a trade that would strengthen an already elite roster. Sending Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic, Presti was able to acquire Victor Oladipo, a lock down perimeter defender and shot creator that would solidify OKC’s back court. Throw in Domantas Sabonis, a gritty, fundamentally sound rookie with NBA pedigree (Sabonis’ father, Arvydas, is a Basketball Hall of Famer), and the Thunder looked poised to make a run at the NBA crown. The one caveat: retaining Durant’s services for the upcoming season.

On Monday morning that caveat fell flat, as Durant chose to join the Golden State Warriors. There are no words to delineate my reaction to Durant’s signing.

What is Durant thinking? Why would he leave OKC, given that this collection of players surrounding him for the 16-17 season is arguably the strongest team of ancillary pieces he’s ever had?

Is this move by Durant parallel to Janes’ move to Miami in 2010? Fans certainly seem to think so. Monday many videos, Vines, IG posts, all had a common theme. Durant’s jersey was being incinerated all over Oklahoma. Fandom had once again spurred emotion, and that emotion fostered itself into blind irrationality.

Durant jumping aboard the Warriors’ ship looks fantastic on paper. It looks so good, immediately following his announcement, Vegas had moved GSW’s odds of winning the ‘chip to 4/5. I’m no gambling officianado, but I believe this means that placing a $100 bet on the Warriors to win the title would net you around $80 extra bucks. Basically, odds makers in Vegas are calling it a sure thing.

I get it. I know Durant is a career 28 point a game scorer. I realize that he is tremendously gifted on the offensive end. He has developed into an above average defender, and despite his slight build, he is good for about 8 boards a night.

I’m still failing to see how this ameliorates the Warriors shortcomings. Golden State was consistently bullied on the interior, and if they should run into a tough squad like the Spurs or the Cavs, where does KD change the outcome for GSW? I know he gets buckets, and I have an infinite amount of respect for his ability to put up points. But what happens when the Warriors need that key stop in the Finals? When they have to keep the likes of Tristan Thompson, Pau Gasol, or even the boys down in OKC, off the glass?

What is being glossed over is what the Warriors will be giving up to retain Durant. Barnes and Ezeli are gone, and those aren’t particularly big losses. But if Andrew Bogut is collateral damage in this signing as well? Where does the interior strength of the Warriors lie? Can they really be expected to play the “Death Lineup” down the stretch of key playoff games in late May and June? I know KD changes the complexion of the “Death Lineup”, but OKC and the Cavs, both of which employed a big lineup when facing the 5 interchangeable wings, throttled the Warriors when they went small.

I would be remiss if I glossed over the fact that KD had issues of his own down the stretch. A look back at the elimination games in the West Finals would reflect a Durant who would force it at times, appearing to want to do too much. His shot selection and putrid possessions he produced can only be rivaled in futility by the shots his now teammate, Steph Curry, took in the Finals.

How will Golden State fill the hole left by Bogut if and when he departs? Will they actually try going small a majority of the time against large, interior dominant teams? If they do, will it be effective? All of these questions will be so compelling when seeking the answers. Exactly how long is it until the 16-17 playoffs start?

I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that the Warriors will not be elite. They may make a run at their 73 win record they accomplished in 15-16. I have some trepadations, and after being around hoop for more than thirty years I have learned to expect the unexpected. I know that they will challenge the offensive records they set this past year, and I am not overly concerned about them sharing the rock or having on court chemistry.

I just still can’t understand why KD did this. He was a leader of an elite team in the same conference as Golden State. Had he stayed and the Thunder continued on their course, they would have stood a great chance of defeating the Warriors in the playoffs. They came within a game in 15-16, and if it wasn’t for some all time great shooting by Klay Thompson, they very well may have ended up in the Finals.

Would KD have elected to join forces with the Warriors had the Thunder taken them out?

This will be a question that I, along with thousands of people in Oklahoma, ask themselves all the time.