Four years ago today, the second biggest free-agent decision of the decade was announced. Don’t know what I’m talking about? On the day Americans celebrate Independence Day, Kevin Durant, AKA The Slim Reaper, took his talents from small-town Oklahoma City to the Bay Area.
The world stood still. Must be a joke or something. No way one of the three best players in the world was about to join a Golden State Warriors team that was coming off back to back finals appearances and a championship a year earlier. Not only that, but his former team, the Oklahoma City (OKC) Thunder nearly knocked off the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. This wasn’t happening.
But it did happen. Durant signed a two-year, $54.3 million deal with a player option in the second year. He joined baby faced assassin and back to back MVP, Stephen Curry. Who could forget the other splash bro, Klay Thompson, and their trusty sidekick, Draymond Green.
Fans worldwide were upset about this decision. Many complained his decision to leave went directly against something KD said in his MVP acceptance speech two years prior.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want to win a championship more than anybody, but if you go through the journey we’ve [OKC] gone through, you can also appreciate other things.” But the line that later irked fans, “I’m no front-runner,” now seemed like a lie.
All about the money KD?
Everyone knew he wasn’t leaving for money because OKC could have given him a 5 year $143,000,000 contract. No other team could have offered anything more than 4 years and $106,000,000.
If KD was jonesing for financial comfort and reliability, he wouldn’t have taken nearly $90 million less in guaranteed money, and three fewer years. Only Latrell Sprewell turns down tons of money and then says he “had a family to feed”.
With KD gone, there would be no more Batman and Robin in OKC. Russell Westbrook in one day was elevated from second fiddle to clear cut leader of a franchise.
Time to leave
Six years before Durant’s departure, a little known 26-year-old from Akron, Ohio left his hometown team. That was LeBron James. Everyone knows how that turned out, he promised not one, not two, not three…. you catch my drift. He promised many rings to Miami, and sort of lived up to that, by winning two while competing for another two.
Keep in mind, James was scolded for leaving. But he was only 26, young in age but old in experience after spending the previous seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. KD was 27 when he left OKC, and he had spent the previous nine years with the Thunder. Technically eight, because his first year was in Seattle, but who’s counting.
Can it be truly be compared to LeBron?
Yes and no. LeBron left a Cavs team that won a lot of games, but he had zero supporting cast. Seriously. Shaq was 37 and roughly 300 plus pounds. Mo Williams was a year away from being traded away as part of a salary dump that would bring in the eventual number one overall pick in the 2011 draft… But Andrew, they had Danny Green. He’s won two championships. Correct. But those came four and nine years later. At that point, Danny Green was averaging two points per game, in only 20 appearances.
Durant left behind Westbrook, who the following year would win the MVP award (coincidence?), as well as young big men in Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka. They had Aquaman’s identical twin, Steven Adams, starting 80 games. Heck, they even had future LeBron teammate and world-renowned edible gummy eater, Dion Waiters.
LeBron’s scrap heap lost in the Eastern Conference Semi’s. Durant’s talented team was one game shy of the NBA finals.
Was it worth it
For Durant? Obviously. The Warriors went on to make three straight NBA Finals appearances, winning the first two. KD took home Finals MVP in both wins, which happen to come against LeBron.
Durant famously tore his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors and former OKC teammate, Serge Ibaka. After the finals loss to the Raptors, Durant headed east to the Brooklyn Nets and joined forces with pals Kyrie Irving and Deandre Jordan.
The world hated Durant for leaving, just like they hated LeBron for leaving. But they both accomplished what they set out to do: Win the final game of the season. At the end of the day, no matter how many burner accounts he may have, or however much of a cupcake he may be, Kevin Durant can say he’s a champion. And that’s all that matters.