Since Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors was announced, the commentary regarding it has ranged from wildly inaccurate to utterly nauseating. It’s not a shock that complex decisions get distilled down to narratives, but the two prevailing narratives that came out of this are worthy of a breakdown; namely – Kevin Durant’s cowardice and Russell Westbrook’s loyalty.
“Why didn’t he play like this in the playoffs” is reportedly what Enes Kanter said to Kevin Durant during Durant’s first game against his previous team on Thursday. It’s also a sentiment that was echoed on Twitter and other platforms during the Warriors blowout where Durant looked like the best player on the planet.
But that’s missing the point. We tend to romanticize eras after they’re finished and forget what drove us crazy during the era itself. This is often how we look back at presidencies for the same reason – we tend to have an extremely negative and cynical view of the present, but the past represents a time where things were better.
The fact is that until the Conference Finals in 2016 Oklahoma City never maximized the talents of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder’s best solution to find a 3 and D wing was overpaying for Dion Waiters. Russell Westbrook’s ball dominance and lack of efficiency from 3 point range is mitigated by his overall brilliance and elite athleticism but is not even close to being an ideal teammate next to Durant. The Thunder never had a truly modern offensive scheme and coach Scotty Brooks was kept on too long after it was clear nothing was going to change – Billy Donovan was definitely a good hire but a little late.
OKC ownership was notoriously cheap, it became a running joke that the Thunder hadn’t amnestied Kendrick Perkins – a roster spot and salary cap space that could’ve been used to acquire or sign a capable 3 and D player. Trading James Harden was unnecessary at the time when the deal happened and was a panicked decision that was mostly made due to financial constraints.
So let’s stop with this notion that the Thunder are victims here. Kevin Durant gave 9 years of his service to the franchise, many of which were in the prime of his career. He propelled the sport forward in the region, putting Oklahoma City on the map.
Now as to where Kevin Durant chose to go. There’s a basketball angle, and a life angle. Durant is not naive enough to have thought that he wouldn’t be seen as “taking the easy way” by joining a juggernaut like the 73-win Warriors team that had just defeated him in the playoffs. To take that into account in your decision, however, is silly. How many people are turning down Google offers because they’d rather work at DuckDuckGo? Kevin Durant saw in the Warriors what we’ve been seeing for years – they are a group of professionals with a great coaching staff, great management, and a good ownership (#LightYears). They play an elite style of offense suited to the way Durant wants to play, they get along very well and oh yeah – San Francisco is an awesome place to live!
Russell Westbrook upon signing an extension with the Thunder was heralded as a loyal guy, the anti-Kevin Durant, the true competitor. “Russell Westbrook would never desert this city and franchise like Durant did” was the message. Weirdly enough, none of this happened.
-Russell Westbrook got a raise for this upcoming season that he was not expecting, this became possible as Kevin Durant went off the books
-Russell Westbrook has only given the OKC Thunder an extra season. Why is that season so significant? After Westbrook reaches his 10th season of service, he is eligible for a higher % of the cap, this is partially the same reason why Durant signed a 1+1 deal this summer with the Warriors. Now, the new CBA may change all that, but this is the reality at he time the extension signed.
Russell Westbrook made the wisest decision for him financially, nothing beyond that. Even if he hated everything about the team, as a cold blooded capitalist that I am, I would’ve advised him to take it.
This next summer is when Russell Westbrook’s true test of loyalty will come. If he extends long term at that point, that’s when we can commend him for his loyalty. And if that extension doesn’t happen? Sam Presti will trade him. OKC will be as cold blooded managing their assets as they should be, Russell Westbrook will manage his career and finances as he should – let’s just spare the narrative, shall we?
- Cleveland Cavaliers (6-0) [LW: 1]
- LA Clippers (5-1) [LW:4]
- San Antonio Spurs (5-2) [LW: 3]
- Golden State Warriors (4-2) [LW: 2]
- Toronto Raptors (4-2) [LW:5]
- Portland Trail Blazers (4-3) [LW:6]
- OKC Thunder (5-1) [LW: 12]
- Utah Jazz (4-3) [LW: 9]
- Atlanta Hawks (4-2) [LW: 15]
- Indiana Pacers (3-3) [LW: 8]
- Detroit Pistons (4-2) [LW: 13]
- Charlotte Hornets (4-1) [LW: 14]
- Boston Celtics (3-3) [LW: 7]
- Chicago Bulls (3-3) [LW: 16]
- Houston Rockets (3-3) [LW: 10]
- Denver Nuggets (3-3) [LW: 19]
- Memphis Grizzlies (3-4) [LW: 11]
- Sacramento Kings (3-5) [LW: 22]
- Miami Heat (2-3) [LW: 20]
- Milwaukee Bucks (4-3) [LW: 25]
- Los Angeles Lakers (4-3) [LW: 26]
- Minnesota Timberwolves (1-4) [LW: 17]
- Orlando Magic (3-3) [LW: 29]
- New York Knicks (2-4) [LW: 21]
- Washington Wizards (1-4) [LW: 18]
- Phoenix Suns (2-5) [LW: 28]
- Dallas Mavericks (1-5) [LW: 23]
- Brooklyn Nets (2-4) [LW: 30]
- New Orleans Pelicans (0-6) [LW: 24]
- Philadelphia 76ers (0-5) [LW: 27]