I’ll probably get killed for this because it’s 2017 and 75 percent of the audience will only read the headline, but as the self-declared president of Leave Kevin Durant Alone Enterprises, it’s my obligation.
Let’s start with a simple question: If you had a problem with KD joining the Warriors last summer, do you also have a problem with Chris Paul forcing a trade to the Rockets?
Because if you took issue with what Durant did but felt nothing about Paul fleeing L.A. for Houston … that’s kinda hypocritical.
No, I am not saying the two situations are exactly the same. Here are the differences:
• Durant is a top-three player. Paul is more like top-10 or 12 at this point.
• The Warriors are the best team in the NBA. The Rockets are probably the third-best team in the NBA.
• The Rockets did not eliminate the Clippers in the playoffs this past season.
And that, really, is where the differences end.
Paul wasn’t going to win with the Clippers just like Durant wasn’t going to win with the Thunder. Would it have made any sense for them to linger on teams destined to go 53-29 and lose in the playoffs rather than find a better situation?
The Clippers and Thunder were fringe Western Conference contenders. They were not going to supplant the Warriors, Spurs or Rockets barring some catastrophic injuries to those top teams.
Paul could have made the most money staying in L.A.; Durant could have made the most money staying in OKC. But winning was more important to them than extracting every last dollar. And both the Warriors and Rockets were able to maneuver their rosters to pay them a boatload of money anyway. How can you hold the desire to win while also making a lot of money against either of them?
The common refrain for the anti-KD crowd is that the Thunder were a game away from dethroning the 73-win Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals and after losing, Durant joined the team that beat him.
My question is very simple: Does that one playoff series cancel out or outweigh the previous decade of Durant’s career?
The Thunder spent years falling short, and they weren’t about to take the next step with Durant, Russell Westbrook and a bunch of guys who have a useful skill or two each. The 2016 WC Finals near-miss wasn’t a building block for that OKC team, it was a deflating example of what they were: good enough to go far when they’re at their peak, but not good enough to finish the job.
And I guaran-damn-tee you that if the Thunder lost to anyone else in the 2016-17 playoffs, the reaction to Durant’s joining the Warriors would have been different.
Plus, it’s not like the Thunder had a legitimate path to putting the finishing touches on their roster to surge ahead of the Warriors. They weren’t in a great cap situation and had already paid Enes Kanter $70 million and knew they needed to pay Steven Adams. There wasn’t going to be a way for OKC to add difference-making pieces to help Durant and Westbrook.
The intent of this is not to persuade people to start criticizing Chris Paul for leaving a good situation for a great one. It’s to attempt to persuade the people that will forever dislike Kevin Durant to chill out and realize this is how the modern NBA works. Guys want to play with their friends. Guys want to win. Guys are willing to accept lesser stats and slightly less money in the name of getting a ring and adding to their legacy.
Kobe wouldn’t have done what Durant did. Nor would Michael Jordan. But neither of them was in their prime in 2016 or 2017, when juggernauts had already been created in Golden State and Cleveland and a team like the Kobe-Pau Gasol-Lamar Odom Lakers would have gone something like 48-34. They played in different NBAs.
LeBron’s Cavs swept Paul George’s Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. If that series went seven games instead, would we be blasting George for being interested in going to Cleveland?
OK, I’m done. I promise to settle down about the hypocrisy of the Durant reactions for at least a few months. As long as you promise to realize that those playoff games against the Warriors in 2016 weren’t the only seven games of Durant’s career.