After hearing the news that Kevin Durant was leaving Oklahoma City in favor of the Golden State Warriors, I wanted to first offer deepest sympathies to those in the Thunder franchise who surely felt that sickness of losing someone or something they felt close to.
I deleted that sentence a couple of times in the hopes that I was a bigger man than taking sarcastic joy in Durant’s abandonment of owner Clay Bennett’s stolen franchise.
I hoped I was evolved enough not to revel in the realization that the most valuable jewel had been stolen from the thieves.
But no. I was helpless.
Bite it, Bennett.
Until fairly recently, I had thoughts that Seattle might have another franchise in place in time to bring Durant back as a free agent at some point. It seemed a glorious symmetry.
The surprise, to me, is the virulent backlash Durant is getting for his decision to go to the talent-rich Warriors. Champions a year ago and finalists this past season, the Warriors with Durant immediately rendered every other team in the NBA an underdog.
Apparently, some see Durant’s decision as a means of taking a shortcut to a title.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called it the “weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar.” Defecting to a team that just beat the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, Smith said, was like “jumping on the bandwagon.”
A columnist in Indianapolis called Durant “spineless” for having taken “the easiest possible path to an NBA title.”
Really? Spineless? As in cowardly?
The assessment seems a little overwrought considering Durant accepted a great contract from a well-coached and successful franchise in the Bay Area of California. Would it have been more spine-full to stay in Oklahoma, or go to a perennial loser?
How many professional free agents survey the market and say, well, I’d like to go to the worst team possible so I can carry the whole franchise on my shoulders? Nobody.
I’m prone to like Durant, still remembering the respectful 18-year-old with the wispy facial hair and those Plastic Man arms who showed up after being drafted by the Sonics in 2007.
Even from that first day, it never seemed too big for him.
When the Sonics were uprooted by Bennett, Durant was respectful of the Seattle fans, to the point he sometimes wore a Sonics hat in Oklahoma City — which we might suspect did not sit that well with the Thunder ownership.
He was here for only one year, but he understood and valued the connection with the Seattle fan base.
Durant became a four-time NBA leading scorer and seven-time All-Star in Oklahoma. He did not, however, enjoy a championship.
That should not be a problem with the Warriors, 2015 champs and recent loser in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland LeBrons.
Durant broke the story himself, writing a short piece for The Players’ Tribune, citing his eagerness to continue his “evolution as a man” by getting out of his comfort zone into a situation “which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”
The guy really facing pressure, now, is coach Steve Kerr. If the Warriors go 81-1 next season, some will be critical of the loss.
But Kerr might be the man capable of managing this mélange of talent. He now must consider how to meld four youngish All-Stars: Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Kerr is inventive and bold, reshaping concepts of how a team can win in the league. With his perimeter attack, the Warriors found the way to follow the 2015 title with the most wins (73) in any season in NBA history.
Toss Durant in, and it’s going to be fun to watch, but it’s also going to be fun to root against him for the fans of every other team in the NBA.
Having the most talent doesn’t mean having the best team.
So if Durant can win a title there, there’ll be no shortcut to it. He’ll fully deserve it.