In defense of Kevin Durant

Thunder at Wizards 2/1/14
Give the guy a break...

Embodying the freedom Americans celebrate on Independence Day, Kevin Durant parted ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder this morning to sign a two-year, $54.3 million deal with the Golden State Warriors. Understandably, haters will hate, and the jabs at Durant have already begun, but consider a few reasons why KD’s move to Oakland is actually OK:

‘Superteams’ are proven to win championships

At this point in the history of the NBA, we should understand that a superstar can’t win a championship on his own, sometimes not even with another player as good as Russell Westbrook. Consider the Showtime Lakers and their longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics.

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There was more going on than just this player rivalry. Photo courtesy of HBO.

Both these team’s starting lineups were filled with hall-of-famers who were then all-stars. Magic Johnson had James Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo–all hall of famers–in addition to solid role players like Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes. Likewise, Bird fought those Lakers three times in the finals with legends Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Nate “Tiny” Archibald. These lineups make the “core four” of all-stars – Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and the newly added Durant – historically feasible. Larry Bird had four Hall of Famers on his supporting cast during the 1985-87 seasons once he convinced Bill Walton to join.

Bird sports three championship rings on his finger and Magic has a handful from a shared eight finals appearances in the 1980s, but not an ounce of mud is tossed at their legacies. Many fans yearn for the days of this great rivalry.

KD isn’t the first player to do something like this

When the player’s hand is the one who turns the page in the “choose your own adventure” book of free agency, most often he chooses the team with the best chance to win because the number of championships a player wins has a large influence on his legacy. Other players, of KD caliber, have done this before.

Shaq, for example, was a team hopper. He willingly left the championship contending Orlando Magic for a seven-year, $121 million deal with the Lakers. Among the players on his team was All-Star-caliber point guard Penny Hardaway and former Bulls power forward Horace Grant.

Shaq with Penny Hardaway. Photo courtesy of Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images.

Then, there’s LeBron. Championships were eluding him in his first stint with the Cavs, largely in part because he didn’t have the team in those seven years. Mo Williams and Antwan Jamison were his go-to guys. It’s no surprise that Pat Riley’s vision, a super-team with D-Wade and Bosh, was an attractive offer.

Similarly, Durant repeatedly tried for a championship with no results. Even though he left an OKC team that was always a favorite to make a championship run, they were nothing more than close contenders since drafted in 2007. With only one embarrassing finals appearance, in which they were bounced 4-1, there seemed to be little hope for OKC after nine years of failure. We also don’t know what Westbrook said to Durant before his decision. It’s possible they both agreed that OKC was not the place for them to win.

The only difference between KD and Lebron is that the Warriors are already successful, if not one of the greatest teams ever, while the Heat were not nearly as established but their success was imminent.  Lebron and Bosh came to a team that was a middling 5th seed, but they jumped to 2nd following 2010’s free agency. They only went 58-24 in 2010, but improved to a league-best 66-16 in 2012. The Warriors did go 73-9, but the small-ball system was slowed down in the finals, and showed that the 2015 formula need some type of change.

Considering what KD said about LeBron when he signed to Miami, it may seem like a betrayal, but at least he didn’t have the “The Decision.”

Durant is a better fit in Oakland than anywhere else

In Boston, the addition of Al Horford sweetened the pot a little bit. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley would make an impressive supporting cast as well, but a weak bench – highlighted Kelly Olynk, Amir Johnson, and the unproved Jaylen Brown – would make it difficult for them to get past the deep Cavs.

The Clippers bowed out of the Durant hunt when they resigned Austin Rivers to a three-year, $35.7 million contract. The Heat did the same after hitting Hassan Whiteside with a max deal of four years worth $98 million.

San Antonio probably wouldn’t have been a great fit for Durant considering he and Kawhi Leonard play the same position, and longtime Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are nearing the end of their careers.

The Warriors are obviously already contenders. They fell short this past year for a few reasons, but one major problem was Harrison Barnes’ poor shooting.  Durant, who would fill Barnes’ spot on the team, holds the has the third-highest career PPG behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlin with 27.4 points. That’s a perfect fit for him, and quite the upgrade for Golden State.

Blame the salary cap

Redirect your animosity toward the NBA and the NBAPA for making a superstar signing like this possible for a team like Golden State. After the announcement of the NBA’s new $2.67 billion TV deal in 2014, the NBA salary cap jumped from $63 million to $94 million. Instead of a gradual “smoothing over,” the NBAPA Executive Director Michele Roberts and team representatives unloaded that huge sum of money right away. As a result, every team received an extra $20 million and had to spend 90% of it. With the genius of front office members Bob Meyers and Jerry West and a little extra cash, The Warriors are able to afford all these stars.

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Smaug, or Mike Conley, buried in the money from his new contract.

Let’s face it, nobody wants to be Charles Barkley. At the end of the day, when the power is in your hands, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. We should be grateful Durant had a weak free agency class and didn’t bring any other stars with him.