In case you have been under a rock since Sunday and have missed the biggest offseason news of the year, former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is now a member of the reigning Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors. And although it appears as though there are obvious winners and losers in the All-Star’s move to the West Coast, I can assure you, almost everybody involved in the deal is coming out worse for the wear.
The Thunder are the obvious loser, having the best player in franchise history leave the organization for a rival. What makes it worse is the fact that with KD in a Thunder uniform and role players finally stepping up under the leadership of their new coach, Oklahoma City was bound to compete for the NBA Title for the next half-decade or so. Instead, because of this one move the franchise is left in a place where competing for a title is all but out of the question. And the window of time where a championship seemed destined to end up in “Loud City” because of the amount of talent on the roster has closed, and the franchise is now looking at rebuilding instead of the playoffs.
And it wasn’t just the franchise itself that was hurt by weak move of the superstar. It was also the coach of that team. The all-time winningest coach in Gator Basketball history, Billy Donovan is arguably the most hurt by the move. He left a program that he helped build for 19 years and won two National Championships with so that he could coach one of the best rosters in basketball. And after one year of Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, two of Donovan’s “Big Three” are no longer with the team, and Donovan is left with a roster he is hoping is good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.
And it wasn’t like Donovan was leaving a bad Florida program to take this job. Donovan led his Gator squad to four straight Elite Eight berths in his last five years in Gainesville and even an appearance in the Final Four just three seasons ago. But the opportunity to coach one of the greatest players of the generation and one of the best teams in the NBA was enough for Donovan to leave the program he built. And Billy D comes out as the loser of this whole Durant mess because his opportunity to win was only for one season.
And then there is the one asset Donovan still has to work with. Russell Westbrook comes out of Durant’s departure the most unscathed, but still hurt by the move. Without Kevin Durant on the roster, the team is nowhere near able to contend for the top spot in the Western Conference, and therefore it will be nearly impossible for Westbrook to win a ring, something players are judged on nowadays, regardless of situation. Westbrook will be judged on his time with KD by his side, for not being a true point guard and “hogging the ball” too much, taking away shots from the NBA’s best scorer. As a matter of fact, rumors have already surfaced that part of the reason Durant decided to leave OKC was because he felt the offense ran through Westbrook too much instead of him. And as fair as some of those arguments might be, and might hurt Westbrook’s non-ring having legacy, he comes out of Durant’s departure much better than the others for the simple fact, that KD leaving now opens the door for the point guard to finally get his due as one of the best and most valuable players in the league.
Before Durant’s decision to leave, the Thunder were always considered Durant’s team. Even when Durant was injured during the 2014-15 season, when Westbrook was arguably the most valuable player in the league averaging 28.1 ppg, 8.6 apg, and 7.3 rpg, he was considered to be just “borrowing the team” while Durant was out. Now it is completely his team, and with a supporting cast that is not playoff-team caliber, simply leading the Thunder to a postseason berth would be worthy of recognition for Westbrook, something he should have been getting even with Durant by his side.
As for the man of the hour, the man who made the move, he would be the man who this deal hurts the most. Although it would seem that his joining a team that just went 73-9 would guarantee him getting a ring, the payoff for his move comes with much more hatred than jewelry. Just minutes before his decision to leave, he was the most loved man in Oklahoma City, and probably the 2nd most loved man in the state outside of Bob Stoops. While minutes after his decision he was the most despised man in the state. But Durant didn’t just lose the love of people from the Sooner State, he lost the respect of nearly every fan in America.
Durant was supposed to deliver a championship to Oklahoma City, and instead his departure for a team, all but guaranteed to win with or without the All-Star forward, is seen as one of the laziest and deplorable moves in sports. Stephen A. Smith, a man I never thought I would agree with, called it “the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar”, while Charles Barkley labeled Durant’s ring-chasing ways as the newest form of “cheating”. And now regardless of if he wins a ring or multiple rings in Golden State, Durant will not be seen as one of the most respected players in basketball anymore. Instead, no matter how well he and his new team perform, the former Thunder wing player will be seen as the coward too afraid to face Steph Curry, and instead will be viewed as the villain who betrayed not only the Thunder but the entire NBA.
And then of course there is the team that Durant abandoned his for. But how can a team that is getting someone who is undoubtedly one of the five best players in the league going to be a loser from this deal? Simple. The franchise that just broke the record for most wins in a season must now improve on last year where they won nearly 90% of their games.
Coming off back to back Western Conference titles, winning the most games in NBA history, and being 48 minutes away from their second straight World Championship three times won’t be good enough for the Golden State Warriors anymore. The team replaces small forward Harrison Barnes (underrated) with the game’s best scoring threat and the last player to win the league MVP not named Steph Curry, so the pressure is on to improve. The only problem is improving on last season is damn near impossible. And even with four of the ten best players in the league all on the same team, winning will not solve the issue of pressure that this team faces. Golden State will have to win big, and nearly every night. The signing of Durant means that a team that choked under the pressure in the NBA Finals last season, will have even more to deal with and an even bigger choking hazard not just in the Finals, but in every single game they play, as this team is sure to be picked apart and scrutinized like no team has before. But Warriors fans are fine with Durant, let’s just be sure they are fine with the pressure that will come along with him.
And if there is one player that comes away from this move positively it is the player that won bigger than any other in 2016, Lebron James. The NBA Finals MVP who erased all doubts of being any type of loser thanks to his heroics in Game 7, and really the whole series of the Finals, shouldn’t be the least bit concerned with the Warriors newest addition. In fact, he and his legacy should be pleased.
Pleased that Durant signing with the 73-win Warriors makes his move to Miami look like nothing. Pleased that Durant’s version of ring-chasing which involves teaming up with the best point guard, shooting guard, and power forward in the league makes his joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach look like a bad offseason. Lebron James should be pleased with the fact that he will no longer be linked to the creation and need for a “super-team” with Durant’s Thunder making James’ Heat team look like a D-League squad. Lebron’s legacy was set already set as one of the greatest of all-time after his record breaking Finals performance against the greatest team in history, but Durant has helped it even more by making fans realize that other superstars need much more help winning championships than James ever will.
Of course Durant’s move provides other potential benefits for King James and his legacy in the future. What Durant’s move does for Golden State in the form of extra pressure is the exact opposite of what his move does for Lebron. Although James still has to guide his Cavalier team through the East, something that hasn’t been that hard for James to do lately, once his team gets to the Finals they will undoubtedly be the underdog to the Warriors of Curry, Thompson, Green, and Durant. And James can go from the most criticized player in sports history to a man who has the chance to do something Michael Jordan never did, take down a “super-team”. Do that, and there are few none that could honestly doubt his greatness. And if he eventually falls short of beating them, at least he wasn’t supposed to. And nobody can say he should have.
As for what this move does for us, the fans, it makes us arguably the biggest losers of all. Only weeks after watching one of the most entertaining postseasons in basketball history, the chase for the championship just became extremely one-sided. And instead of watching great matchups like Westbrook and Durant taking on Curry and Thompson, we now get to see an overly dominant Golden State team stacked to the gills with talent take on over-matched teams in every series. And instead of good basketball with a chance for a great game, we will be watching a team that should have no problem winning in a game that we should have a lot of problems watching.
So in the end, what comes down to a player wanting so badly a ring, instead of the chase to get one, is not a win for him and his new team, but instead a loss for the sport and the fans.