Kevin Durant Just Delivered the Biggest Blindside in NBA History
*Photo via Getty Images
In a move that will be remembered in infamy in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant decided to leave the only NBA team he has ever played for. Durant announced through The Players’ Tribune that he will sign with the Golden State Warriors, agreeing to a 2-year/$54.3M deal, the second year is a player option. It isn’t just the fact that Durant left the Thunder after nine seasons, including one in Seattle with the Supersonics; it is the team he left them for. The Thunder and Warriors had sparked the beginning of a fierce rivalry in the Western Conference, with the Thunder manhandling the 73-win Warriors through the first four games of the Western Conference Finals for a 3-1 lead. Durant and the Thunder had three chances to clinch his second trip to the NBA Finals; and three times they failed, losing the series 4 games to 3. By bolting for the Warriors, Durant became Lawrence Taylor, leaving the Thunder reeling like Joe Theismann.
The Thunder made a huge move during the NBA Draft, trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic to acquire Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis, to make this Thunder roster the deepest yet. Durant was widely expected to return to OKC and was the final piece to the puzzle, to lift them to their first championship since moving to Oklahoma from Washington in 2008. But it was not to be, Durant elected to choose the easy way out, wanting to win a championship so badly that he was willing to give up everything he had built with the Thunder franchise.
The decision to join Golden State isn’t just bad for Oklahoma City; it is bad for the entire NBA. The 2016-17 Warriors will boast a starting lineup (assuming they go small), consisting of the best backcourt shooting duo of all-time in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders who has improved his jump shot, Durant, one of the best scorers in league history, and Draymond Green, a versatile, all-around player who is comfortable in a variety of roles on both sides of the floor. How can other NBA fan bases, especially in the West (maybe excluding those in San Antonio), be expected to root for their teams when they have to go against the last three MVP winners, the reigning three-point champion, the 2015 Finals MVP, and two-time All-NBA Defensive First Team player, all on the same team?
*Photo via the Huffington Post
I know that there has been other ‘Super teams’ that have failed to win after being crowned NBA Champions in the summer, think the 2010-11 Miami Heat or Lakers in the early 2000’s with Shaq, Kobe, and Malone. But there has never been a team in NBA history that looks as deadly as this Warriors team does on paper. Maybe chemistry issues will arise throughout the season, but with coach Steve Kerr’s team first and ball sharing offense, most of the issues can be expected to be fixed come May 2017.
The majority of the other teams who missed out on landing Durant have made contingency plans: the Spurs signed Pau Gasol, the Celtics signed Al Horford, and the Clippers retained most of their core players. For the Heat, uncertainty awaits as Dwyane Wade has engage in serious talks with both the Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets. However, no team is in as bad shape as the Thunder.
With Durant leaving and the Thunder getting nothing in return, the team will now shift it’s attention to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook and Durant had a tumultuous eight seasons together in OKC, with questions arising about how they played together and if they could coexist as two alphas on the floor. It appears that Durant felt their relationship couldn’t go any further and chose Curry over Westbrook and the Warriors roster over his own teammates. Westbrook will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, and with Durant gone, OKC’s title window is not what it was two days ago. Will he see any reason to stay with the Thunder if there is a better chance to win somewhere else? The Thunder must face the harsh realization that Westbrook could follow Durant out the door next season, and have to consider trading him before they get nothing in return for him either. There are potentially dark days ahead for the Thunder, who in 2012 looked poised to run the NBA with Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and James Harden all on the roster, after next season, all of them could be somewhere else.