Where have you gone, KD? NBA fans turn their lonely eyes to you.
In a league known for high-profile moves and bombshell responses, Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City’s Thunder, mere contenders, for Golden State’s titans, the Warriors—well, at least in the regular season—made him the game’s most scorned superstar since LeBron James abandoned Cleveland for Miami in 2010.
All that was missing—happily for KD—was an ESPN special like LeBron’s to announce he would take his talents to the Bay Area.
Thus, instead of global scorn like James received, the horror was in-group but nonetheless impressive.
Charles Barkley, speaking as usual for the common fan, called it a “scapegoat move to try to ease your way into a championship.”
Deadspin wrote pro and con pieces but the guy who took the latter got to have all the fun in a story headlined, “Fuck This Shit.”
“It’s OK to be sad Durant left Oklahoma City and worried he created an unbeatable juggernaut in doing so,” wrote ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “He strengthened a 73-win team and gutted possibly the only long-term threat to its hegemony in the Western Conference. Rivalries and suspense make sports. The NBA has rarely felt so low on both.”
Fortunately for the NBA, teams that look unbeatable in July, or even the next April, like last season’s Warriors, often stumble in May or June — like last season’s Warriors.
In the meantime, everyone who doesn’t like this development can join in rooting against them like the Damn Yankees of old.
Of course, stars have reasons for what they do. It’s not personal, it’s business, it’s about feeding their families, it’s about the ring, it’s just time for a change.
At 27, KD said it was time to think of himself. He felt at home with Warriors players. He felt the need to move “out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”
OK, maybe that sounds like gobbledygook, but we’re not Durant. It wasn’t our decision, and we’re not the ones who have to live with it.
On the other hand, his move suggests the other thing at play that no one talks about: whim.
Look at it from the players’ perspective: Why not?
KD could have signed a five-year, $153 million deal, or $30.6 million annually with the Thunder.
Or he could have taken a one-year, $26.6 million deal with the team, then signed a five-year, $203 million deal next summer, enabling him to coordinate plans with teammate Russell Westbrook, a 2017 free agent.
Or he could sign a two-year, $54 million deal with the Warriors with a 2017 opt-out, then a five-year, $203 million deal there.
In other words, (A) he was rich, (B) he was rich and (C) he was rich.
As free-agent surprises go, this was a 10 on a scale of 10.
Durant was always about the team, going through agony in 2007 when he left Texas as a freshman to enter the draft, even though that was an obvious move.
He re-upped in 2010, a year before becoming a free agent, forgoing his leverage because he liked it in Oklahoma City, seeming to show he was made of different stuff from LeBron, who announced the next day that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Thunder persevered through thick and thin for the next six seasons, overcoming injuries to KD and Westbrook and their own monumental mistake, trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets in an overblown dispute about a total of $7 million over the terms of a four-year deal.
In May they blew out the San Antonio Spurs in a 4-2 romp after losing the opener by 32 points. In the West Finals, they led Golden State 3-1 before the Warriors’ epic comeback.
Thunder General Manager Sam Presti seemed to put the final piece of the puzzle in place, stealing rising star Victor Oladipo from the Orlando Magic for declining power forward Serge Ibaka.
At the very least, Durant was expected to stay one more season, with maximum salaries set at 25 percent of the salary cap, which had just gone from $72 million to $94 million and is projected to rise to $102 million next summer.
It was a no-brainer right up until July 4, when KD broke the shocking news that he was going to the Warriors in The Players’ Tribune. Behind the diplomatic language that explained nothing was … what?
The polite KD may never say, but employing Occam’s Razor—the simplest explanations are the likeliest—Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reported that Durant was tired of playing alongside the high-maintenance Westbrook.
“He’s never, never going to have a game in Golden State where Steve Kerr has to say at halftime, ‘You guys need to get Kevin the ball,’ which happened in OKC,” a source close to Durant told Beck.
If Durant was loyal to Westbrook, Durant had acknowledged the difficulty of playing alongside him, telling The Oklahoman, “There’s times where me and Russell didn’t talk. There’s times we come into the practice facility and I want to fight him and there’s times where he wants to fight me.
“That’s dealing with someone more than your family. You’re going to have those days. But I know I’m gonna go to war for him in front of anybody. And if you have something to say about him, you can’t talk s— about Russell to me when you don’t know what he does every day.”
In other words, Russell was a bleep-head, but he was KD’s bleep-head, at least until July 4.
Wait, before you go…
So long, Oklahoma City. Hello, Oakland. (Keith Allison / Flickr)
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