There are a lot of factors that basketball fans can look at in the wake of this year’s finals. First, a shout out to the Golden State Warriors. What a team, what a squad, what a front office! Even if I don’t think they’re particularly classy (save Steph), they’re an incredibly talented team that knows how to win. Also, LeBron is indeed the King. The first man to average a triple double in the finals, this man is as legit as they get. He’s solidified GOAT status for me, but we’ll get to that at some point eventually (my next article). Right now, I want to talk about someone who’s been the bane of my basketball fandom for the past year: Kevin Durant. His move to GSW is cowardly as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll explain why.
KD is a top four player in the league (anywhere from two to four depending on how you want to order Curry/Kawhi). He has been in this position since 2011, when he led his team to the Western Conference Finals against the Dirk-led Mavs who would eventually benefit from LeChoke. Durant had another top five player in the league in Russell Westbrook, who is excellent albeit a little brash. He didn’t have great coaching, nor an extremely impressive ownership (though Presti is definitely a good GM), but had he chosen to stay in OKC, he would have had that other top five player in the league, an elite college coach who’d only get better in his second year, and an elite set of bigs (Al Horford would have hopped on the team had he stayed). It’s been reported since 2015 that Westbrook was much more popular than KD among Thunder players given his style and personality, and KD seemed to resent that. To be fair to KD, Brodie’s style wasn’t particularly conducive to KD all the time, often playing erratically. As a fan, my preference was that KD would stay with OKC and that he and Brodie would contend with the Warriors, Spurs and Cavs for the rest of the decade. Of course, that wasn’t meant to be, but it didn’t have to go down the way that it did.
KD could have gone to the Celtics or Wizards and given LeBron a challenge in the East, or to the Clippers, and teamed up with a good team to continue being a force in the West. He did none of that. In an absolutely classless move, without even letting his teammates know, he wrote an article talking about how he was “taking the hardest road” by joining a 73-9 team that was one LeBlock and one Kythree away from finishing as the winningest team of all time with back to back championships. As we saw throughout the year, the Warriors didn’t need him; they just needed him to not be a contender. The original Warriors starting five from 15-16 finals could easily have been back at the biggest stage given how great Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are, not to mention the insane defense of Iggy and the veteran skillset of Shaun Livingston. They could have also lost to KD/WB as they likely should have last year when they were down 3-1, but KD decided to shit the bed in games six and seven. Maybe the Spurs could have won. Unfortunately, we will never know, because by choosing to join forces with a team that basically didn’t need him, KD robbed the jewel of the NBA – the elite Western Conference – of its relative parity.
At no point in NBA history in the post-merger era have two of the NBA’s top three/four players played on the same team as a result of one player joining the other, and likely four of the top 15 as well. Kyrie’s (arguably) not even top five at his own position. Durant, instead of choosing to be a competitor and attempt to beat the best, simply joined them. I’m confused as to how one CANNOT question his mental fortitude and character. If you are elite at anything, you may not have the AI/Kobe/Brodie mentality of “Us Against the World,” but you likely want to establish yourself as the best in your own right. Instead of figuring out a way to get back to the WCF and NBA Finals (which the THUNDER SHOULD AND COULD HAVE DONE), KD was attracted by easy layups and transition dunks that he’d get playing along with the most transformative offensive player of our generation, two of the top five defensive players in the league, and an excellent unselfish bench coached to near perfection by Barney Stinson’s basketball lookalike. He took the easiest road possible, and deserves criticism for it. Imagine if Wilt said in the 1960s, “Whoops, I can’t beat Bill Russell’s Celtics. Might as well join him!”, or if Bird had said the same about Magic or vice-versa. Imagine if Jordan said that about the Bad Boy Pistons, or if Shaq said that about the Bulls. If Kobe joined Steve Nash’s Suns, and, of course, if LeBron joined the Celtics (we’ll get to LeBron in a bit). The league would suffer as a result, and these people would be criticized. KD isn’t David West or Ray Allen; he’s great among great. He’s expected to lead his own team, one that was perfectly talented and capable when healthy to win a chip. The fact that he chose the easiest road possible is purely embarrassing, and the lies he told in the wake of it are even more confusing. Not to mention, he called the heck out of LeBron during the Decision (well-deserved). Is this really someone who deserves a free pass?
You’re thinking, “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DECISION? LEBRON DITCHED CLEVELAND TO GO TO MIAMI.” I hated LeBron for four years because of this. I got over it when he made that incredible stand against the Warriors in 2015 and am a big fan now, but he was the villain of the NBA for four years. He deserved it. What LeBron did, though, isn’t half as bad as what KD did, and comparing them equally displays a fundamental lack of understanding of basketball. LeBron saw that his team, which he had put on his back with zero help for seven years, was unable to win, and he was tired of doing everything by himself. Let’s not forget that Jordan couldn’t get out of the first round without Scottie Pippen. Along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they chose to go to Miami as a result of both Pat Riley’s insane work culture as well as of course weather and opportunities. The other two were not top five in the league at the time, either. What seed was Miami the year before? Fifth, third in their division. What happened to Cleveland after LeBron left? 19-63, got the first pick also known as a young man who believes in a flat earth named Kyrie Irving. Other fun facts: the decision raised a million dollars for charity, despite it being douchey as can be. Also, other things he got criticized for, like the “not one, not two, etc.” were simply for hyping up a Miami crowd, not a guarantee of anything. Handled poorly? Yes. Did he redeem himself? Absolutely. As bad as KD? Absolutely not.
As stated earlier, KD wrote an even more idiotic letter that dramatized his soft decision as something difficult, was fairly passive-aggressive with the media all year, and joined a team that arguably didn’t even need him to get its end result. I give KD all of the credit in the world for his performance in the finals; the man showed up to play. He’s a great player, and could go down as the third greatest SF of all time after LBJ and Larry Legend. It’s for this reason that his decision, and this outcome, frustrates me so much. He didn’t need to do this, yet he did it anyway. And he deserves all criticism for it.