The Bonus is back after a mini-hiatus after the draft. I was going to do a big round up of all of the free agent moves, but then Kevin Durant had to go and sign with the Warriors yesterday, and a momentous move like that deserves its own piece.
There’s truly very little precedent for something like this happening in NBA history. Off the top of my head, the only things that come close is the Philadelphia 76ers getting Moses Malone, coming off an MVP season, right after losing the Finals to the Lakers in 1982, and the Celtics drafting Len Bias after winning a championship in 1986. It worked out for the Sixers, as Moses went on to win another MVP, and lead Philadelphia to the championship in 1983. Of course, the Celtics did not have similar success with Len Bias, because he overdosed on cocaine within 48 hours of them drafting him. Thankfully, Kevin Durant doesn’t seem like a prime candidate for such things.
For Oklahoma City, it’s a sad day, and then end of an era, the only era which their fans know. Durant’s been with them the entire time the Thunder have been in OKC. Only Nick Collison can also say that. He was there when they started a season 3-29, which seems unthinkable for a Thunder team, but it actually happened, and not too long ago. From there, he teamed up with Russell Westbrook to turn the Thunder into one of the best teams in the league, a perennial championship contender, with the somewhat disappointing result of only one trip to the Finals, 2012’s loss to the Miami Heat. He saw James Harden come and go, earned an MVP, led the league in points scored five consecutive times and was the most beloved player on a team that had one of the highest approval ratings amongst NBA fans.
What made the Thunder so likable is that their successful teams were homegrown. Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, James Harden were all drafted by the Thunder themselves. It’s the exact opposite perception that the Warriors now have, although Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all Golden State draft picks. That’ll be a bit overshadowed now by the mammoth addition of Durant. In fact, the Warriors, who once shared a high approval rating with the Thunder, became more and more hated as the most recent Playoffs rolled along. Turns out people don’t like it when teams act entitled, repeatedly hit people in the balls, and throw mouthpieces into the stands. They became so hated, that people actually started rooting for LeBron James, who has long been the most hated. Now, that hate will be amplified with Durant joining the Warriors squad.
Back in Oklahoma, people are already burning their Durant jerseys, and Twitter is abuzz with people incensed that Durant would leave the Thunder. Is there no loyalty anymore? What happened to the days where the best players wanted to beat one another, not win together? It’s frustrating when you lose the best player on your favorite team, and it’s frustrating to feel like your team no longer has any sort of a chance at a title because some dickhead team went and collected all of the good players, but everybody calm down. What was Durant supposed to do? If you had a good position at a good company, but a better, more successful company offered you the same position, what would you do? There’s really no difference between that and Durant’s situation, except millions of people don’t religiously follow and cheer for your performance at your company. Beyond that, those loyal players of yesteryear didn’t have the free agent opportunities that today’s stars do, as Pro Hoops History pointed out…
Give the 1950s-1980s NBA unrestricted free agency and see whether or not Magic, West, Oscar, Bird, etc. wouldn’t have gone someplace else.
— Pro Hoops History (@ProHoopsHistory) July 4, 2016
Shout out to Pro Hoops History, by the way. Give them a follow if you haven’t already. Anyway, Kevin Durant wants to win a championship, and honestly, the Warriors give him the best chance to do so. How could he pass up a chance to play with Draymond, Klay and Steph? After all those years with the Thunder, falling short again and again, making only one Finals, only to lose. Blowing a 3-1 lead in this year’s Playoffs in the Conference Finals. Suffering a lost season due to an injury. Having to battle through the Playoffs without Russell Westbrook, thanks to an injury. Losing James Harden. If Durant learned anything throughout his time with the Thunder, it’s that chances at a championship are fleeting. The Thunder were anointed the team of the future when they broke into the 2012 Finals, and from then on, they’ve been close, but no cigar. Instead of hitting home runs, they’ve just had warning track power (shout out to baseball).
While the Thunder fans are in despair, they still have a pretty good team. They’ve got a Westbrook/Victor Oladipo backcourt, and with Durant leaving, expect Westbrook to go out of his way to put up a triple-double every night. Steven Adams is awesome, too. It’s not like they’re returning to the days of 3-29 starts. That Western Conference Finals against the Warriors, blowing a 3-1 lead while having a chance to close them out in Games 5, 6 and 7, is going to sting for a long while, though. I mean, Kevin Durant probably wouldn’t have even left if they could have closed that one out. Oops, sorry Thunder fans. Don’t worry, the Thunder are going to continue on, and they’re going to be just fine. Probably.
As for the Warriors, a 73-win team just got even better, which is ridiculous. They’ve got four of the league’s best fifteen players, all in their prime. If you’re not a Warriors fan and already feeling hopeless, Big Fours do have a tendency to not work. Remember the Dwight Howard/Pau Gasol/Kobe Bryant/Steve Nash Lakers? How about the Shaq/Karl Malone/Kobe/Gary Payton Lakers? I just wanted to point out a couple of Lakers failures. What the Warriors have that those teams don’t is a Big Four that’s all in their prime, and whose skills compliment each other nicely. However, the games still need to be played, and everybody still needs to be healthy. These last Playoffs showed that anything can happen, even in the NBA, the league with the least amount of parity.
There’s been a whole bunch of other moves in the NBA, so join us tomorrow for the Free Agency Round Up that I was going to write today, but decided not to because of Kevin Durant.