Who can blame Kevin Durant for abandoning the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors? Well, a lot of OKC fans, for starters.
It’s not easy for a city to lose an icon and one of the best players in all of basketball, and go from contenders to pretenders.
Durant had a good gig going with the Thunder. During his time for OKC, he netted seven All-Star games, one MVP and one NBA Finals appearance, but no championships. This year, OKC had three chances to beat Golden State and advance to the NBA Finals, but came up short.
The OKC superstar appears to be taking the approach, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” But that may be oversimplifying things.
Whatever his motivation, I doubt it’s about the money. He was going to make a boatload of it and be filthy rich wherever he played. Suffice it to say he won’t have to worry about where his next meal is coming from anytime soon.
Players move around in every sport and not infrequently to the highest bidder, but the impact of player movement is more significant in the NBA than any other professional team sport. With only 10 players on the court at one time, a superstar has the opportunity to make a more significant difference in basketball compared with baseball or football.
So why would Durant leave OKC for Golden State when he was so close to winning a title with the Thunder?
There are several plausible reasons, although only Durant knows for sure.
The most likely reason is that he likes his chances to win a championship or two or three with Golden State. Translation: He thinks his legacy will be stronger with NBA titles on his resume. Not to mention it’s fun to win it all.
Another reason may be the way the Warriors play the game of basketball, with a lot of ball movement. A third reason may be that he thought OKC had hit a ceiling and the organization would continue to have trouble breaking through to win it all.
Whatever Durant’s reason, the NBA has a problem. Out of 30 teams, maybe three or four teams have a legitimate chance to win it all next year.
Let’s start with Cleveland and Golden State, followed by San Antonio. After that, you have four or five very good teams who could win it all, but barring injuries to key players, most of those teams have little chance of beating Cleveland or Golden State in a best-of-seven series.
If you’re a fan of one of the remaining 20-plus teams in the NBA, your team has virtually no shot of contending for anything before the season has even started.
Is Durant’s legacy dependent on joining a team of superstars to win a title?
Former NBA star and TV commentator Charles Barkley headlines a long list of NBA greats who have never won a championship, including Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins and Reggie Miller.
“We develop this thing where you keep telling these guys, ‘Hey man, if you don’t win a championship, you’re a bum,’” Barkley said. “I don’t feel like a bum.”
Barkley also made a good point when he said: “First of all, the fans love their teams, they love sports. But they’re not going to see Sacramento, Indiana, Miami, these bad teams where guys are making 10, 20, 30 million dollars a year and they don’t have a chance to compete.
“I mean, that’s where we’re going. We’re going to kill the golden goose. Everybody’s going to be making a lot of money, but other than five teams, we’re going to be putting a shabby product out there. That’s what’s going to kill the NBA in the next few years, in my opinion.”
I’m not ready to say the imbalance of power will kill the NBA, but it certainly could have a chilling effect.
Hillsboro resident Joe Kleinsasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. He can be reached at Joe.Kleinsasser@wichita.edu.