Kevin Durant’s "decision" and an NBA as we never knew it
There has always been an inherent problem with the NBA. There are professional sports which are individualistic, which reward the player in question and no one else. There are also sports which are predominantly team-centric, where the greatness of one player does not have as big a domino effect as collective team play on overall success.
Moments of greatness, where a single strike or a single save changed the outcome of the game, are outliers. It is safe to assume that Michael Jordan’s fans would have rooted and cheered for him even if he played for a franchise not as much on the national map as the Chicago Bulls or say the Los Angeles Lakers. The games would still be sold out if he played for the Milwaukee Bucks or the Orlando Magic.
People would still come and cheer, the attention would be nationwide until he won or left (an occurrence of far less frequency then), the paradigm would shift and the fans would start cheering the new team. The prospect of Jordan leaving would be heart breaking for the fans of his current franchise, but for a fan rooting for Jordan, it would merely constitute a shift in his allegiance.
The flawed system of the current NBA
It would be a bit of an over reach to proclaim that the NBA system is a farce. However, it would be well within the line of reasonable argument to say that the prevailing system is flawed. A system governing a sport should be able to balance risk and reward to keep the game interesting, however, the current system where the only barometer of success is a title does little in the way of achieving that.
The NBA deals with the fact that there is absolutely no value on any position except the first, which means that according to our earlier assumption of two contenders, there are 28 fan bases with no hope and pretty much an absolute zero shot at winning the title.
The NBA is not the only league where lack of competitiveness is an issue, the La Liga and the Bundesliga are two prime examples where a couple of teams have vastly more resources than the others. However, the leagues still remain popular owing to the simple fact that losing in football is not rewarded with a potential superstar.
Being in the top four in the league results in a berth in the UEFA Champions league, being in the last two or three teams’ results in a demotion, which means that teams have something to play for every time they take the field. Compare that to the NBA where the highest number of losses results in a 25% chance to win the draft lottery and it is evident where the problem is.
Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors
Teams put themselves in a position to retain their top player by whatever means necessary. The Thunder did just that. Kevin Durant had every reason to stay. The franchise was coming off one of its healthiest post seasons to date especially after the last few were cut short by the most untimely injuries in NBA history. They had eliminated the Spurs in 6 games and had been 3-1 up against the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
The system was in place, the team was buying into the coach and his philosophies and Durant had a superstar team-mate in Russell Westbrook. This was no Cleveland Cavaliers of 2010, a team in which LeBron literally worked as the sole breadwinner. Oklahoma City Thunder had all the necessary parts in place to be primed for success. They were contenders, not a franchise struggling to surround their star player with the help he needed.
When the news broke in The Players’ Tribune that Kevin Durant had chosen the Warriors instead of Oklahoma City Thunder, which had been the only franchise Durant has known for the past nine years of his NBA career, it was not long before the hate started to roll out.
The merits and demerits of Durant’s decision are purely speculative. He puts himself in a position to win multiple championships and be part of a dynasty. Maybe, that is the message that resonated with Durant when he took the Warriors meeting in the Hamptons. The meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder was done, the message had been delivered.
For the Thunder, there was not much they could have done at that point. The Warriors recruited Durant in the summer of 2016, the Thunder however, began their recruiting process nine years ago. It should have been a tell-tale sign for the Thunder that when Durant took the meeting at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Sam Presti tried to usher him through a door underneath his picture as a symbolic gesture that this was his team. Durant, however, walked through the door under Steven Adams’s towering frame.
Taking everything into account
A lot of things had to fall into place for the Warriors to even be in a position to offer Durant a contract. Would anyone ever imagine that Stephen Curry, the NBA’s new poster child, would earn less than Matthew Dellavedova?
To do a quick headcount, the Warriors starting five which would be Curry, Thompson, Durant, Draymond Green and any center they choose to play, would have four All-Stars, two regular season MVPs and two players who have led the NBA in scoring a combined five times over the past seven years. That does not sound like an even playing field for the rest of the 29 franchises.
How does a middling franchise improve? How does a small market team retain the talent they drafted by amounting abysmal losses all for a higher chance at the Number-1 pick?
Best case scenario, they turn into the Milwaukee Bucks or the Memphis Grizzlies who are perennial play-off also rans never breaking out of their rut. Worst case scenario, they turn into the New York Knicks, continually dumping assets in the hopes of striking gold with a Free Agent.
Would Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ever play together on one team? Would Michael Jordan ever join the Detroit Pistons after being beaten by them in the Eastern Conference Finals? Definitely not, as many of them have pointed out recently. Durant is being chided for taking the easy road, for jumping on the bandwagon, for not trying to do it all himself.
When LeBron joined the Heat in 2011, the Heat were a 47-win team and not the team holding the best regular season record in NBA history, boasting of three All-Stars and having just lost Game 7 of the NBA finals because of a dagger three-pointer.
The situation is different, but the thought process is the same. LeBron looked out for himself, just as Durant did by joining the Warriors. For Durant, it’s a curse that he is playing a sport so deeply imbibed with the concept of legacies, his title or titles with the Warriors will always come with an asterisk mark.
But would it matter in the long run when he has amassed rings and has had a sure-fire Hall of Fame career? Probably not, but it still puts to light the NBA’s misguided attempts to create parity in the league.