On Friday, we should see the culmination of Kevin Durant making the right decision.
Last year, a firestorm was set off as Durant announced he was leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to team up with the Golden State Warriors. The same team who won an NBA-record 73 games without him. The same team who defeated Durant’s Thunder in the Western Conference Finals after recovering from a 3-1 deficit. A good portion of critics immediately said Durant took the LeBron James “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” route, but this was much, much worse.
(Again, James teamed up with Chris Bosh in Miami and the year prior to, Dwyane Wade had to post a phenomenal season — 26.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.1 blocks — just for the Heat to get the fifth seed. Durant went to a team that had been in the Finals two straight years without him. Just saying.)
From one vantage point, it’s understandable for Durant. I mean, it’s free agency. A player has the opportunity to go wherever he wants, just as the fan has every reason to criticize him. This is Durant’s 10th year in the NBA and in his mind, superstars are judged by championships when their careers are over. Durant felt like him and Russell Westbrook couldn’t win one together, so he crossed over to the “dark” side. This decision could be summed up in one Jay-Z line:
“I went from the favorite to the most hated, but would you rather be: underpaid or overrated?”
When Durant made the transition to Golden State, I wrote in another column about how we lauded players such as Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing and John Stockton for staying true to a team — but none of them became champions. No matter what happens, we’ll look at Kevin Durant as one of the best scorers of his era and possibly one of the greatest forwards. He’s even produced phenomenally for the Warriors and will get a Finals MVP out of his troubles (by the way, that pull-up 3-pointer in the last minute of Game 3 in front of LeBron was just ridiculous.)
Still, the fan in me just can’t let it go.
I grew up in the 90s, an era with seemingly more competitors. If Ewing, Miller or Stockton had gone to the 1997 Bulls, any of them would’ve been crucified. Durant took the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them” way too literal. The Golden State Warriors built up a team organically with three draft picks (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) becoming All-Stars before adding the second-best player in the game this year. Durant definitely provides an advantage to Golden State (there’s a solid chance the Warriors don’t even make it to the Finals, much less beat Cleveland without him) but what kind of precedent will this set down the line?
The NBA has struggled with parity its entire existence. Of the 71 titles (including this year), the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers combine for 33 of them. Between 1987 and 1998, every champion repeated at least once and from 1991 through 2010, three teams (the Bulls, Lakers and San Antonio Spurs) won 15 of the 20 titles. Barring injury or questionable trade, the Cavaliers and Warriors aren’t going anywhere and who’s to say there won’t be a superstar willing to join a squad (or another on the cusp of greatness) down the road? While it guarantees an intriguing Finals matchup, we’re subjected to nearly two months of playoff action where everyone knows the other 14 teams won’t make it.
Still, for Kevin Durant to get his title, he had to produce. The critics will still be there, but this was what Durant wanted — an opportunity to get his ring. If Golden State blows a 3-0 lead, the memes and backlash will be endless, but it’s not going to happen. As early as Friday night, be prepared to hear “the 2017 NBA Finals MVP is Kevin Durant.”
Just don’t expect me to be overly excited for him.