KD Takes His Talents to the Bay Area: So former Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant decided to exercise his right under free agency to shop around for another team. After nine years, four conference finals and one NBA Finals appearance, he might just be thinking that time is running out on his chances to win a championship ring. Commentators such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and TNT’s Charles Barkley have soundly criticized the player for making his move to Golden State Warriors, a team that came back from three games to one down in the Western Conference finals to defeat Durant’s Thunder this past season. From the reaction, you’d think that he had committed some heinous act, like perhaps vacationing with other players from different teams or maybe working out at a prior club’s facility, or…oh, wrong dude. I had him confused with Lebron James there for a second. But seriously, Durant has spent nine years on a small market team, with about as much success as you can expect. Sure, they almost got to the Finals this season and probably had a decent chance of derailing the eventual champion Cavaliers had they made it. So he’s leaving a pretty good team, one that many feel would have still had a chance at a title had Durant stayed in OKC with running mate Russell Westbrook.
But in order to clear some space for KD, the Thunder made a couple of moves in anticipation of his return. However, the biggest factor in the equation is probably Westbrook, who still has another year on his contract. Without him, even if Durant stayed, OKC would still need a lot of help to remain near the top of the league in the future. So if Westbrook informed Durant of his intent to leave after next season, it could clearly have had a huge impact on Durant’s decision-making process. His choice of the Warriors has spawned a lot of criticism, many accusing him of taking the easy way to a potential title. While I understand the criticism, I totally disagree with it. First, unless anyone has been in his shoes, it’s very difficult to take shots. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago regarding Lebron James, very few people on the planet have ever found themselves in the situation a few of these top players are. Just think about being considered one of the best at your profession, highly compensated, entering potential free agency, but not appreciated unless you can somehow win an elusive title. James was there six years ago, Durant is there now and Westbrook will be there in less than a year. Now imagine the team that had the best regular-season record in the NBA and fell just one game short of a second consecutive crown comes courting your services. Do we expect him to say no? I mean really Stephen A. and Chuck? Didn’t Charles Barkley go from the Philadelphia 76er’s to the Phoenix Suns, a team that came tantalizingly close to NBA title? And Stephen A., it doesn’t look like you’re toiling for a hometown station instead of having your face all over the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports”.
I would also argue that a Warriors title is no slam dunk. Golden State, with the exception of Steph Curry’s leg issues in the playoffs, has enjoyed a fairly injury-free run the past two seasons. In addition, they lost Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes to a trade and free agency in this offseason. Bringing in Durant, while probably a no-brainer, is still a bit of a risk and will no doubt take some time to develop a new chemistry with a different lineup. And as the Cavaliers showed in the Finals, the Warriors can still be vulnerable inside and they’ve done little to address that need. Despite his size, Durant doesn’t play a traditional center position, so there is a chance Golden State will find more teams figuring out a way to defend the splash brothers and get the ball down low on the other end of the court. If we look at the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, both teams took a season to really get their star-studded lineup to gel. It’s probably realistic to expect the same type of adjustment in Oakland. But don’t get me wrong here. If they add the right big man in the middle and get it going, the Warriors could be a juggernaut. James better be glad he has his three rings already.