NBA

Durant is a Coward

DurantDurant is a coward. There are big free-agent signings and then there are historic free-agent signings. Kevin Durant’s signing in Golden State goes down as one of the hugest free-agent signings ever. There is reigning MVP Moses Malone going from the Rockets to the Sixers (which ultimately ended as a trade of Caldwell Jones and a draft pick because of the restricted free-agent status which created complications). There is Shaq to the Lakers. There is Lebron taking his talents to South Beach. There is Lebron taking his talents back to Cleveland. And now, we have the least competitive move I have ever seen in the history of the league.

When Durant left last year’s West Finalist, the one-game-away-from-the-Finals-with-a-3-1-lead-Thunder to go to the record-setting 73-win Warriors who had just come back from a 3-1 deficit in one of the most entertaining series in recent memory, Durant did something I have never seen before. You see, former MVPs typically stay with a franchise as a cornerstone for years. Kobe, Dirk, Duncan, Jordan, Magic, Bird, these players stayed with their original franchises and let the team build around them. The Thunder had done this for Durant. Normally, those players stay put. When a former MVP (or any elite player for that matter) does leave one franchise for another it is usually the down-side of his career playing for a bad team and the player is searching for his first title (Barkley, Malone, Drexler) or there has been some type of falling out with management.

In KD’s situation, it is neither. The Thunder had just beaten a 67-win Spurs team and were one win from the NBA Finals. They had the defending champs on the ropes, down 3-1 before realizing that their 2-guard couldn’t make a jump shot to save his life. Thunder management went out and addressed that need by acquiring Victor Oladipo for one of Durant’s least favorite teammates, Serge Ibaka. The Thunder had experienced the emergence of Stephen Adams to make Ibaka replaceable. This was not a bad team KD was leaving, rather this was an elite team with a Top 5 player with whom Durant formed one of the greatest duos the league has ever seen. Instead of regrouping to take another shot at the title with his elite Thunder team, he bailed.

For Durant to leave the Thunder for the Warriors would be like after the 1989 season, Michael Jordan deciding to leave the Chicago Bulls for the Detroit Pistons because MJ, then 26 years old (Durant is 27), was tired of not beating the Pistons in the East Playoffs. Well, that would be a fair comparison if Isiah Thomas had won the last two MVP trophies in the process of dismissing the Bulls from the Playoffs. It would be like Jerry West leaving the Lakers to go to play for the Celtics because he was tired of not being able to beat them in the Finals. It would be like Larry Bird leaving Boston to play with Magic Johnson and the Lakers after their bitter defeat in 1987. Can you name a single time in NBA history a former MVP still in his prime left a 55+ win team for a 60+ win team?

Moses Malone is the closest I can think of. He left a 46-36 Rockets team to go to 58-24 Sixers team. Moses had just won the MVP for Houston who finished 3rd in the Midwest Division and lost in the First Round of the West Playoffs. He was also playing with an aging Elvin Hayes and Calvin Murphy and saw no future with the Rockets. He joined forces with a younger Sixers team led by 31-year-old Dr. J that had lost in the Finals the year before. Malone was not a coward, he was hungry to win a title for a good team rather than trudging through mediocrity.

ShaqShaq is another close-but-no-cigar comparison. He left the 57-25 Magic to go to the 53-29 Lakers, but Shaq was 4 years into his career and was not an MVP winner. He wasn’t going to the team he couldn’t beat, rather Shaq had aspirations of doing movies and a rap album that Hollywood would allow him to pursue. That was a ego move to the bright lights of Hollywood, but not an anti-competitive one. Shaq was not a coward.

Durant said, this was a “basketball decision.” He was not going to Oakland because he has aspirations of investing in Silicon Valley start up companies, this was a basketball move. It’s like losing by one point to a team on the playground and saying, “O.K. let’s play again, only this time I’ll be on your team.” That’s not how competitors think and for me, I am really disappointed in Durant’s lack of competitive fire and his willingness to so easily give up on his elite team in OKC for a better one in Oakland.

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