The Short Goodbye

Kevin Durant leaves OKC for a team OKC should have beaten in the playoffs. We discuss…

OKC is now part of the I left you club. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks lost transformational players to teams on a coast. LeBron, Shaq and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar left the teams that drafted them for California and South Beach teams. (Only Abdul-Jabaar had won a title before leaving).  Do you view Kevin Durant differently?

C.J. Hampshire: This is how the system is structured. NBA players are the only labor force that have to wait almost a decade before they can have full autonomy over their career. It ends up being a short goodbye. Free agent on July 1. And then somewhere else on July 4th. Durant has the right to go wherever he wants. But here is where it gets complicated. Fans in NBA cities are stakeholders. They have a vested emotional interest in their teams and the stars of those teams. Durant didn’t air his “decision” on television but it still is a stab to the heart. I don’t think of Durant any better or any worse than I thought of him before.

Mallory Stith-Wheat: After his emotional MVP speech two years ago, their was this impression that Durant was different. He was humble and he was sensitive and he was caring. He was the good son, the good teammate, the good friend. But he is no different than any other NBA superstar. He LeBron(ed) the Thunder and their fans.

Brendan Gillspie: I didn’t expect him to want to go to a team with an established culture and an in-house superstar beloved by the basketball media. Furthermore, Durant made a comment earlier in the season when talking about the Spurs, he said he was an iso player and he wasn’t ashamed to say that out loud. So as a business proposition, how does that fit within what the Warriors culture is about?

Julian Billick: Two iso players destroyed the Warriors in the Finals. The Warriors two year experiment has been buried. The need a take you off the dribble scorer. They got it.

Is this the weakest move by a superstar, as Stephen A. Smith has suggested?

Mallory:  Not the weakest but it’s up there. Why leave a championship contender to join a historical team who you demoralized in the playoffs? It feels a little too cozy, like he’s tired of shouldering the burden.

Julian:  It won’t get the LeBron treatment but what is different? This is. He could win in OKC but chose not to so maybe there is something we don’t know.

C.J.:  Apparently the Al Hoford deal fell through because Horford was not willing to re-sign in OKC after the next year opt-out, leaving Durant in the same position. Durant doesn’t think this Thunder team has enough, despite the media interpretation. Not weak. It is Durant coming to a decision based on what he believes. There is this animus between him and Smith so I don’t take it that seriously.

Brendan:  Why can’t a player leave if he wants to? Everyone has the right to change their job location if there is something they think is better. He thinks the Warriors are better. I don’t, but he has the right to choose without being called “soft”.

Pencil the Cavs in as the East champion barring a LeBron James injury. Are the Warriors the prohibitive favorite in the West?

Julian: No. Who is going to guard Damian Lillard and Chris Paul and Russ Westbrook? Trading Bogut means they now have zero size and you can punish Draymond Green with Steven Adams. It was a good move to keep Igoudala, they need him. But the Warriors bench needs to be reconstructed. It will be the same usual suspects. Warriors, Spurs, Clippers. Perhaps the Thunder depending on how the Westbrook situation plays out.

Brendan: The ability to score in a variety of sets is going to set the Warriors apart. But they still have a defensive problem. They slid last year in defense and their defense in the Finals was apathetic.

Mallory: They are the favorites but it’s not a lock. If we know one thing about the Warriors and an offensive only team, they are vulnerable. They have yet to beat a team in the Finals with their stars healthy. As far as I’m concerned, they have an asterisk championship.

C.J.: The Warriors are the favorites because they are the defending Western Conference champions. But last year taught them 73 games is a stupid goal to go after. Can they be inclusive of everybody? What happens to their chemistry? Those are things that have to be proven. The rest of the West isn’t garbage so I wouldn’t put their name in ink in the Finals.

Sam Presti is fielding offers for Westbrook, if he doesn’t sign an extension. Once upon a time, the Thunder had the second, third and fourth draft picks. Durant and Harden are gone. If Westbrook doesn’t sign an extension, which I don’t expect him to, and he is traded, the Thunder are rebuilding. Won’t this be a preciptous fall?

C.J.:  It’s the fragility of the NBA. Superstars are held together with tape and glue. But this is the thing. You had nine years to get it right. I say Westbrook is traded and the Thunder are fighting for a 7th seed.

Brendan:  This is what the system creates. They lost KD and got nothing in return. The perfect scenario would have been a sign-and-trade with the Clippers for Blake Griffin. But KD walks. They can’t let Westbrook walk and get nothing. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. But for Thunder fans, this is Black Monday.

Mallory: I don’t see Westbrook signing an extension and staying. It’s too bad. He would have had a monster year for the Thunder. Do the Lakers have enough to entice the Thunder? If I was the Cavs, I’d offer up Kevin Love, slide Westbrook to the two.

Julian: Westbrook is unique. He’s kind of a free spirit. He’s hard to gauge as far as his happiness playing in a small market, regardless of wins and losses.

Is Durant in the Bay good for the NBA, or bad?

C.J.: It’s good. Superteams create a lot of hate and a lot of love and everything in the middle. If it works, we have the third year in a row of Cavs-Warriors. If it fails, Durant is a free agent and you may see him on the move. Drama sells. And misery. You have ecstasy in the Bay and sadness in OKC. From a storyline perspective, it is a compelling turn of events.

Julian: It throws the small market teams for a loop. The collective bargaining agreement was supposed to prevent this. Players were too greedy to leave money on the table and go elsewhere. But the loophole they didn’t bargain for was the money going up and two year deals, an opt-out, and then superstars really getting paid.

Mallory: It’s bad for the NBA. The league is already watered down. There are about eight teams that don’t have enough talent to compete. The creation of the super powers only makes the league a haves and have-nots collective. Fans of the have-nots are dispirited. It hurts the overall picture.

Brendan: Overall it’s good because of the drama of Curry-Durant and who takes the most shots, and the Durant going back to OKC narrative, and what can OKC do with only Westbrook, and does this change the bottom line because no one can stop LeBron and Kyrie.

Kobe and Duncan stayed with the teams who drafted them, through the good and bad. We thought Durant had that same psyche. Were did we go wrong?

Mallory: Duncan won a title in his second year. He came to a team with David Robinson. Kobe won a title when he was 21 years old. He came to a team with Shaq. Winning early in your career relieves the tension and pressure. The way Durant lost this year was devastating.

C.J.: We don’t know players like we think we do. We are not part of their internal lives. We only see the on court production and whatever off-court behavior they want us to see. We don’t know them. It was premature to say Durant was an OKC lifer just because his MVP speech moved us to tears.

Julian: Since only two players have done it in 20 years, it is safe to say very few players will. Kobe was a Lakers fan as a kid so it didn’t take much to keep him around. And San Antonio gave Duncan the privacy and low key lifestyle he craved. Both of those players had the best of both worlds. OKC was always in flux, always adding here, changing there. It was a tough season and a perfect storm. Had the Warriors not choked in the Finals, Durant would still be a Thunder. It’s a game of inches and misperception.

photo via llananba