In a Players’ Tribune letter, almost certainly written by his agent, Kevin Durant announced his intentions to join the Golden State Warriors. Since then, the internet has pumped out a steady stream of memes, keeping us all entertained during the dog days of professional sports. Fans and NBA personalities alike have been criticizing Durant, and some have gone as far to call it the “weakest move by a superstar” they have ever seen. Seems like you made some enemies over the holiday, Kevin.
Personally, I can’t blame the guy for leaving. It may not seem like it, but Durant had been in Oklahoma City for 8 long years, and the Thunder’s situation remained largely static throughout his tenure. For many seasons now, we harped on the points that OKC needed to move the ball more, and that they’re just one “3 & D” guy away from winning a championship, but neither of those issues were ever really addressed. Maybe Victor Oladipo was going to be that final championship piece, but Durant didn’t want another contender, he wanted a sure thing.
But that is what bothers me the most as a fan of the NBA. The last thing I want to see is a sure thing, and now the Warriors are almost unfairly talented. American sports emphasize the value of parity in their leagues, and the NBA in particular has put in many regulations trying to keep their small markets competitive. But the lack of foresight in not smoothing the cap increases over a longer time period came back to bite them in the ass, and now we’re left with a Warriors team that boasts 4 of the top 15 players in the league, all in the prime of their careers. Golden State owner Joe Lacob called their organization “light years ahead” back in April; what do we call them now?
We can call them the villains of the NBA, that’s for sure. You could feel the sentiment changing towards Steph Curry & the Warriors during this playoff run, and now they are full fledged heels. Golden State becoming the league super villains, a real life Monstars if you will, is the best result that came out of this shift in power. It’s a blast to hate a player and/or team, and though multiple NBA teams had legitimate championship hopes last season, there wasn’t really a team for which you could have true disdain. That all changes now, and on the other side of this coin is LeBron James, who has somehow become the people’s champion! The King willing Cleveland to its first title in decades and still retaining underdog status for the upcoming season is a blessing and a curse. Congrats LeBron, you might never win another title, but we’re rooting for ya.
Overlooked in all of this, is the tragedy that the wildly effective, but ill-fitting, duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will no longer exist. The combination of Durant and Westbrook was awe-inspiring and frustrating at the same time; there were games when KD and Russ each dropped 40 points, overwhelming opponents with their unmatched talent, but there were also times when Russell forgot he had a 4-time scoring champion as a teammate. Now, we will get to experience how Westbrook performs when he’s unquestionably the best player on his team, and I’m excited to see the gaudy numbers he’ll put up.
A few months ago, Durant told Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins that he was “tired of being second” his entire life and that he was “done with it”. His frustrations were understandable, but jumping to the Warriors feels like a cheap way of shedding his second place persona. His Thunder had the excuses of inexperience and injury, but now that all goes out the window. Joining Golden State comes with the burden and expectation of victory, and he will have no excuse if his isn’t an NBA champion come this time next year.