Did Kevin Durant Ruin the NBA or Make it Better?
It’s been two years since Kevin Durant wrote in the Player’s Tribune that he would sign with the Golden State Warriors after spending nearly a decade with Oklahoma City (formally Seattle).
Since his departure, Durant has elevated his game beyond reason. He’s coming off back-to-back NBA Finals MVP awards, hosted up two NBA title banners for the Warriors and inked a 1-and-1, $31.5 million deal with the Warriors, where he can opt out after 2019.
Call him a snake, make fun of him for joining a “super team” and continue to hate him all you want. But 2016 is long gone, and Kevin Durant is satisfied with being the bad guy.
Let’s revisit 2016 for a bit. The Thunder were inches away from beating down the Splash Brothers in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, holding a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Ultimately, they would blow their series lead, and KD watched as LeBron and the Cavs had their own come-from-behind victory over Golden State.
At the time, these were arguably the best players in the league, ranked from 1-5:
- LeBron James
- Steph Curry (who won the MVP award unanimously)
- Kawhi Leonard
- Kevin Durant
- Russell Westbrook (or, arguably Chris Paul)
Today, here’s where I would rank the top five players in the NBA (excluding Kawhi Leonard):
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durant (Closer to LeBron than ever)
- Steph Curry
- James Harden
- Russell Westbrook (or, arguably Anthony Davis)
Kevin Durant’s game has elevated to insane numbers, but is constantly living in the shadows of the greatness in LeBron and the juggernaut team of the Warriors. To put it into perspective: if LeBron James is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and Curry is by far the best shooter of all-time, then what does that say about KD? At worst, KD is a top-15 player of all-time, but could easily become a top-10, or dare I say, top-5 player when it’s all over.
From a fan’s point of view, most hate Durant if you’re not a Warriors fan. He left a team that was a fourth quarter away from beating one of the best 3-point shooting teams in NBA history, and instead joined them. That’d be like Tim Duncan leaving the Spurs in the early 2000s and joining with the Lakers, who were already dominant with Kobe and Shaq.
What Kevin Durant did in 2016 was excercising his rights as a player with the choice of signing wherever he wanted, and, unbeknown to him at the time, eventually elevate the game higher than it's been in decades.
Now, Golden State is at the pinnacle of the NBA, with about two-three years of continued dominance ahead of them. Beyond just KD and Steph, guys like Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins are all perennial all-stars. And the league’s executives have become obsessed with beating them.
KD didn’t ruin the league. He and LeBron made it more acceptable for guys like Kyrie Irving demanding a trade, or Chris Paul leaving the franchise he helped elevate with the Clippers to play with James Harden and the Rockets. Fans question integrities of guys like Leonard or Cousins for wanting something different, but they each did what they felt was necessary to their own personal life. It makes fans appreciate guys like Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis that much more admirable for sticking around their organizations, despite the looming lust to win, and trying to build something regardless. Up-and-coming teams like the Celtics, 76ers and even the Jazz are that much more admirable considering the star-studded league.
KD joined a super team, just like LeBron did with Miami in 2010, or like Kevin Garnett did with Boston in 2007, or how Shaq did it with Los Angeles in 2000, or when Dennis Rodman joined the Bulls in 1996.
As a fan of the NBA, I can’t look in the mirror and say that I like KD because I don’t, and my reasoning is probably the same as most NBA fans. But I have an immense amount of respect for him as a player and I think that his choices evidently will continue to lift the league in order to someday beat him.
Quit sulking about how good the Warriors are. It’s now about who will take down the super team and who will better the beast that is the Golden State Warriors.