Team Loyalty vs A Championship Winning Career: The New Challenge for NBA Players
*Photo via Sporting News
Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question every Hall of Fame worthy star asks himself at some point in his career in the league. Now to be fair,the answer depends largely on the team you were drafted to and the overall potential to win a championship. At the end of the day, professional basketball is a business first and entertainment second, so each team views players as small puzzle pieces; get the right pieces to fit together and you’ve built a potential championship contender, if the stars align in the postseason perhaps a dynasty building powerhouse.
With that said let’s look at the latest to jump ship in pursuit of the ultimate goal, a championship. 29-year-old free agent Kevin Durant was a highly recruited high school player who was one and done at the University of Texas, drafted to the Seattle Supersonics which later became the Oklahoma City Thunder. By all appearances he was in it for the long haul with Clayton Bennett. Bennett hired former University of Florida men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan as a key puzzle piece in the road to the championship and the move, by all accounts, was a play to keep Durant happy and content to stay. Donovan did have more wins than any other coach in the history of the program at the University of Florida, but his championship building prowess in college hasn’t translated to quick success in the league. After the Thunder gave away the Western Conference Finals in three winnable games to the Golden State Warriors, Donovan looked deflated and Durant looked at the calendar. Durant is in his prime and has perhaps another three to five years playing at this high level before he, like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, becomes a seasoned veteran, not a high flying super-star.
According to an ESPN article, Durant referred to Oklahoma City figuratively as his home, giving hope to OKC fans that their anchor player would return to the team following free agency this summer, but Durant, like every other player knows the way of the world in the league, it’s all about results, “Our world revolves around championships” he told Sports Illustrated in a recent feature before making the move to the Bay Area, “Who won the championship? Who will win the championship? If you’re not the champion, you’re a loser. If you’re not first, you’re last.”
*Photo via Sporting News
Now according to ESPN’s Royce Young the Thunder made the fatal mistake of selling loyalty to Durant in their bid to keep the star, not championship success and loyalty hadn’t put a ring on Durant’s finger and validated his career. “Those close to him talk about how he’s impressionable and impulsive, and the moment Durant agreed to meetings in the Hamptons, his future hung in the balance. In reality, he had one foot out the door.”
I don’t fault Durant for making the blockbuster move that sent shockwaves through the league this week, I applaud him for actively pursuing his goal. You can’t make diamonds out of glass and the Thunder crumbled like fragments while under pressure in the post season; Durant needs strong complimentary teammates and it wasn’t the right fit in Oklahoma for him. With sharp shooting Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry at his side, Durant can bully defenses in the post alongside Draymond Green next season. The Golden State Warriors play the fast paced style of basketball that best suits Durant’s lane slice and dice agenda and he’s no stranger to the arc, so he’s in good company with the team who's known for padding scoring columns with on the mark long-range shooting.
Unfortunately, hours after Durant made the best decision possible for his career fans and fellow players alike started the barrage of ‘haterade’ and side-eyed comments eerily similar to the onslaught that followed with LeBron James when told the world he was taking his talents to South Beach. Paul Pierce, the once mainstay of the Boston Celtics who has since played for other teams made the laughable tweet two days ago that “If you can’t beat them join them?” and Isiah Thomas, current Boston Celtics player joined in the fun tweeting “If you use the warriors in 2k17 your automatically weak lol.”
“You’re going to the team that beat you when you were 48 minutes away on three separate occasions from beating them yourself. It’s not that he’s leaving Oklahoma City, it’s the team that he’s going to,” Stephen A. Smith said on Sportscenter this week. Is this more male ego or basketball IQ? Well LeBron James joined Miami largely for the promise of a partnership with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to validate his career after a long stretch in his hometown of Cleveland and the Heat and Cavaliers hadn’t been conference foes battling in the conference finals so perhaps in Smith’s eyes this move was more “acceptable.” I get it, don’t join them just because you can’t beat them but with the bolstering of Durant’s presence the Golden State Warriors have added dimension and size both offensively and defensively.
Are some people unhappy with this decision? Sure. Is it a good business move for Durant? Well it gives him a experienced head coach who has won a NBA Championship, a tool he didn’t have in Oklahoma City and if everyone stays healthy the Golden State will be a force to be reckoned with next season. Will he win the championship next season? Well that depends on the consistency of Golden State in the postseason next year. Stephen Curry was sloppy in the postseason, logging numerous turnovers and opting for fancy behind-the-back and no-look passes that led to points for LeBron & Co in the finals so hopefully the regular season MVP has learned that his dancing on the hardwood doesn’t yield better results than the straight up and down basketball he played to win the championship two years ago. Unfortunately for the rest of us, until basketball season rolls around again we wouldn’t know how this new storyline will play out but on paper it could be match made in basketball heaven.