How Kevin Durant’s Decision Affects OKC
*Photo via USA EXTRA
Over the last 5 years, everything had to go exactly wrong for Kevin Durant to defect from the OKC Thunder for Golden State. They lost the 2012 NBA Finals, then James Harden was traded, then injuries set in. Despite making 4 of the last 6 Western Conference Finals, Durant’s time to be a free agent came, and he made a decision that will send ripples throughout the league and the Oklahoma City franchise for years to come.
First off, let me start by saying that—in terms of a strict basketball decision—Kevin Durant made the right decision, taking the unpopular but unquestioned easy route in hoping to secure multiple NBA championships in his career. However, he now has to live with being a villain, being booed in every arena outside of Oakland for the remainder of his tenure in Golden State. I’m not sure how he’ll handle that mentally, or how it will affect his play on the court. He now has a full summer to play with his new teammates in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson at the Olympics, and the road to PR recovery will start with winning a gold medal in Rio. There’s a lot of blame that can be shared for this decision, from Durant himself to the CBA to the NBA’s failure to recognize and prepare for massive salary cap jumps. The franchise’s true D-Day (you could say the D stands for Durant here) has come and gone and now it’s time for the city and franchise to lick their wounds and begin the recovery process.
Now, for how this affects OKC, it is absolutely devastating and a crippling move. With Russell Westbrook primed to be a free agent next summer, it appears as if OKC is set for a rough season before Westbrook hits free agency, with many people feeling as if he’s guaranteed to depart next summer with the lack of another superstar next to him. With KD leaving means that OKC is no longer a big market for free agents who want to come win a title, and it almost guarantees that their title window that seemed as if it would be open forever has now officially shut. Harden is gone, as is Ibaka and now Durant.
*Photo via Huffington Post
Durant’s departure makes way for OKC to match on Dion Waiters in restricted free agency, and they will probably line up with a starting five of Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson, Kanter, and Adams, leaving Waiters to do the heavy lifting with Cameron Payne for bench scoring (note: Waiters will most likely wind up with more MPG than Roberson, especially late in games when they need offense). I believe that they will not trade Westbrook unless they’re around the 8-10 spot in the West around the trade deadline. The Thunder are still a good team with Westbrook the now unquestioned leader, but it leaves the future of the franchise in a shroud of uncertainty. Should they fail to persuade Westbrook to stay and sign another star, it is very possible OKC falls victim to the old Hawks stigma of being just good enough to stay relevant and in the playoff picture, but never really compete or threaten for a spot in the Finals, thus leaving them at the bottom of the lottery and unable to draft what would figure to be a true star out of college: NBA purgatory.
Now, in terms of their approach for the upcoming summer, I believe their first priority will be Blake Griffin, and trying to convince him of a homecoming of sorts (he’s from Oklahoma City and attended the Oklahoma U). Pairing him with Westbrook puts OKC firmly back into contention in the West, even if they can’t exactly match Golden State’s current ensemble. If they fail in that pursuit, I’m not entirely sure where they go from there with Oladipo entering restricted free agency next summer. He would essentially become the new franchise cornerstone and hope Cam Payne develops as well as they hope (he’s supremely talented, and the organization believes they can mold him into a really good point guard).
At present, Kevin Durant’s decision has crippled the Thunder franchise, but has not knocked them out. They have prepared for this and have a culture of developing talent and remaining competitive with young talent. But, the final test for the franchise remains to be if they can keep Westbrook next summer. If they fail in that endeavor, the days of Oklahoma City being a title contender may be shut for a long, long time.