First things first, every player has the right to decide what to do with his own career whenever the opportunity presents itself. It is Kevin Durant’s absolute right to decide the fate of his own career. Isn’t it funny how it’s considered a business move when the franchise decides what to do with your future and how much its worth? That being said, I find it difficult to understand the motivation behind making decisions that may affect one’s legacy. This idea is even more confusing in today’s societal atmosphere of lowering standards and participation trophies. In this article, I will attempt to look at this event from different perspectives in order to give you an accurate depiction of what really happened when Durant decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) and join the Golden State Warriors.
For the greater part of his entire career, Durant has been the face of the franchise. He has dedicated most of his career and efforts to the development and competitiveness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has met the criteria of what one might consider worthy of the franchise label. So what happened? These three things may have had an impact on this situation: franchise loyalty towards Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jerry West.
Before we compare Mr. Durant to all of those Hall Of Fame (HOF) players whom never left their team as a testament of their loyalty, understand that teams back then demonstrated their own loyalty towards their franchise players. For example, Earvin Magic Johnson’s loyalty towards the Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise was based on the on going loyalty demonstrated to him by the aforementioned franchise. He was allowed to play the point guard position at the expense of Paul Westhead’s career. They reloaded the team with quality talent such as Bob McAdoo, James Worthy, traded Norm Nixon (a point guard) for Byron Scott, and brought in Mychal Thompson for an up-tempo line up when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was getting up in age, and made it their priority to re-sign him no matter what. I would wager that the same occurred for Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, and Michael Jordan. This was not the case for Charles Barkley nor Kevin Garnett whom turned out to squander their younger more athletic years with disloyal franchises. The way I see it, the minute they traded away James Harden to the Houston Rockets, they demonstrated to him what their loyalty was all about.
The emergence of Westbrook during Durant’s first major injury also became an unforeseen problem. The belief is that the development of Westbrook would only improve the disposition of the team but the reality is that it caused more uncertainty as opposed to continuity. Some how the identity of the team was compromised and it showed in the way they played culminating this year with a number of blown leads and a 3-1 lead forfeiture of the Western Conference Finals. This is not Westbrook’s fault. All players should have the drive that this young man displays. The fault lies in the management of the team by way of the coach or GM.
Enter the logo. Remember when I was talking about how well the Lakers took care of Magic Johnson? Well, that was the work of Jerry West. As fate would have it, Mr. West has been employed as a member of the executive board by the Golden State Warriors as part of their collaboration of decision makers since 2011. This is the gentleman whom then Orlando Magic Center Shaquille O’Neal asked for $100 million to be a Laker and he responded by saying, “Let me see what I can do.” His conversation with Durant was no less impressive when he sold him on the fact that he is 1-8 in finals appearances and that at his age (78), his losses still haunt him. West has been credited for influencing the decisions to acquire Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and for adamantly blocking the trade between Klay and Kevin Love. Now add landing Durant to his résumé.
To many of us old school fans, the fact that he is making decisions to manipulate his legacy by joining his arch rival only further proves our point about today’s athlete and the declining level of competitiveness while their sense of entitlement rises. I have no problem with Kevin Durant leaving OKC after eight years. It was time for a change. However, leaving the team you have been loyal to for most of your career and joining the team that put you out of championship contention is a little much. Talking about your legacy doesn’t help your case at all. In the past, players understood that they would be judged by what they accomplished on the court. This motivated them to work harder with the intent to beat anybody that got in their way. Now, it has become a trend to form a super team in order to preorder your championship ring.
Could you ever imagine Larry Bird joining the Philadelphia 76ers, the Detroit Pistons or the Lakers so that he could get one more ring to secure his legacy? Of course not, he made his career by beating those teams and the Celtic franchise made sure they were always competitive. Can you imagine what would have happened had Len Bias not died? Charles Barkley demanded a trade because Philadelphia refused to bring in the appropriate talent to be able to contend in the East. Seriously, they brought in old Rick Mahorn. In an attempt to get something for him before he left as an unrestricted free agent the Sixers traded him while he was playing on the Dream Team. That next season he became the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the league while taking the Phoenix Suns to the Finals in an attempt to beat the Chicago Bulls, not join them. When he was traded to Houston Rockets, he became part of an old ensemble of great players in the winter of their careers but they still went 57-25 and made the Western Conference Finals and still would have had to face the Bulls in order to be champions. Barkley still averaged 19 ppg on .484 shooting while grabbing 13.5 rpg.
I understood the dysfunction between Durant and Westbrook but to complain about taking contested shots sounds more like you couldn’t handle being the superstar. I can’t remember how many uncontested shots Bird, Thomas, or Jordan took. It’s in the job description, that’s why you make the big bucks! This all reeks of taking the easiest way to secure a championship. Choosing to be a component and surrendering your superstar status will more likely affect your delicate legacy than never winning a ring ever could. I apologize for becoming preachy but stop comparing these young cats to our old dogs. At least this particular Warrior, for sure. Peace.