July 13, 2016 by McDowski
On July 7, 2016, the biggest NBA free-agent question was answered in a most unexpected way – Kevin Durant, formerly of the Oklahoma City Thunder, would be taking his talents to the Silicon Valley.
To say the move was a surprise is putting it mildly. While Durant took meetings with several teams (six to be exact) the widespread expectation was that he would ultimately re-sign with the only franchise he has played for his entire career. After all, why wouldn’t he? The Thunder are a really good team, and a team that arguably got better with the recent trade where they swapped Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo. Not to mention the fact that, in Russell Westbrook, Durant had one of the leagues best players as his teammate. The common expectation, then, was that Durant would sign a 2-year contract with the second year a player-option, allowing him to become a free-agent again next summer when the salary cap jumps again, and then sign for a mammoth long-term deal.
Well, Durant did sign a 2-year contract with an opt-out. Except he did so with the Golden State Warriors, shocking many. In the aftermath of the announcement, there was the expected deluge of support for Durant’s decision by some, and hatred for being “weak” by others. There were also plenty of LeBron-to-Miami comparisons thrown around, with the added conclusion that time will forgive Durant just as it did with LeBron James.
But those comparisons are ridiculous. Yes, LeBron left the team that drafted him to go play for a potential competitor, but that’s about all there is that is similar. The biggest difference is who the two players left. Say what you will about LeBron’s Decision – and certainly, the way he went about it was rightfully criticised – but from a basketball standpoint, you simply cannot blame him. The Cavs team he was on sucked. Many people are fooled by the Cavs’ 66-16 and 61-21 record in back-to-back seasons into thinking that this means they were a good team. They were not. They won a bunch of games because that’s how good LeBron was. Who was the next best player on that team? Mo Williams? Sorry, but if Mo-freakin-Williams is the second best player on your team, then your team sucks.
LeBron didn’t go to a ready-made contender. Even with the Chris Bosh signing, Miami were by no means title favorites. LeBron going with them is why they became favorites. Durant, however, is going to a team that was already the favorites to win next year. A team that averaged 70 wins over the last two seasons, including an all-time record 73 wins this last season. A team that won a title in 2015, and came within one minute of winning a second in 2016. A team that, in Stephen Curry, has a superstar who just won back-to-back MVPs, including the league’s first-ever unanimous MVP. Oh, and lest we forget – a team that just defeated Durant in the Western Conference Finals after coming back from a 3-1 deficit.
Durant going to that team is very different from LeBron, and whole lot less forgivable. This is a blatant example of a ‘superstar’ deciding, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Rather than, at the very least, coming back for another year and seeing if OKC could get over the hump, he chose to go to the team that has already gone over it. Even if the Warriors, as many expect, win the 2017 title, how many people will give Durant credit for that? When you go to a team that hasn’t won, and help them win, you get credit. When you go to a team that has won, and is expected to win again, and then they win… well, that wasn’t because of you. You just happened to be along for the ride.
Like a lot of people, I don’t have a very high opinion of Stephen A. Smith or his loud-mouth proclamations. But in this regard, I agree with what he said: Kevin Durant jumping on the Golden State bandwagon might just be the weakest move we have ever seen from a so-called superstar.
Durant could have stayed in OKC and lead them to a championship and become immortal, much like LeBron just did in Cleveland. Instead, he chose to go to the team he couldn’t beat.