A day that will forever be remembered in NBA infamy: Independence Day 2016. Everyone was certain Kevin Durant’s legacy was in the toilet when he joined the 73-win Warriors, who had came up just short of back-to-back titles.
What folks didn’t account for is just how valuable KD would be to OKC’s playoff results. Obviously the first year after KD left no one could’ve expected a team with Russell Westbrook and a bunch of end tables to advance far in the Western Conference.
But then Sam Presty struck magic and traded for Paul George. Outside of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, George is the best consolation prize as a true small forward three wing (which KD is as well) for OKC.
The past two years the two stars have combined for a 2-8 record against teams with little to no prior playoff success. Considering we’re talking about one guy who won an MVP and averaged a triple-double the past threes years, and another who was a top-three MVP candidate with elite two-way play this past year, this is simply unacceptable.
When KD and Westbrook were both healthy for the postseason they consistently made it to the Western Conference finals and even the NBA Finals back in 2012.
It was soft for KD to join a ready-made championship contending team without a shadow of a doubt. It was also selfish in the sense that it took away a component of the game fans love so much from a competitive standpoint.
But let’s give KD a slight break. He did put up with the dysfunction of Westbrook and the whole OKC organization for the first nine years of his career.
Westbrook is undeniably an NBA icon who has been a captivating player en route to earning an insane statistical feat. When discussions of his legacy come up, however, winning won’t be part of it.
OKC’s playoff elimination games both in the Russ & KD and Russ & George era have had one constant: plenty of missed shots and turnovers from Westbrook in crunch time. His reckless abandon and tendency to let his drive to win cause him to unravel emotionally has been a main source of OKC’s undoing.
It’s not the lone factor, Billy Donovan and Scott Brooks are fairly mediocre head coaches. The method for structuring role players around the OKC Stars has been shaky in the past as well.
These internal issues with the team — together with a very average market in Oklahoma City — made it easy for KD to leave. I’m sorry OKC, it’s not your fault you’re land-locked and not all that exciting of a city. I’d bet that 11 out of ten people who ripped KD for joining Golden State would want to live and work in the Bay Area before Oklahoma City.
So where does this ultimately leave KD? He’s not out of the woods completely. He still only has rings alongside three other all-stars who already won title without him. As one of the most unstoppable players in league history, and top ten all-time talent, he’s got some more work to do if he wants to be part of the top-ten-players-ever conversation.
As it would happen, KD can opt out of his current deal and become a free agent this year. He’s also still in his prime at age 30. He can join the Knicks or the Clippers, then lead them to a title that will secure his place in the pantheon of all-time great players.
KD was already an MVP and an established top three player in the league prior to joining Golden State. But, as a tribute to the tremendous Golden State culture — KD has grown immensely as a player since arriving.
His consistent calling card is his unstoppable scoring prowess. He’s showing no signs of slowing down either, just coming off his first 50 point playoff game in his career while closing out the Clippers. He’s also benefited from the team’s unselfish approach predicated on ball movement to become a better facilitator. On the defensive end, he’s been tasked with playing the five with small ball lineups in Golden State that allow him to show he’s an elite rim protector.
Adding these two components to KD’s game has catapulted him firmly into contention for best player in the world today. After winning a third straight title with the Warriors KD, I beg you to go elsewhere, use what Golden State gave you, and win a title that’s your own creation. You don’t need to settle for riding the coattails of an elite team.