Why it’s not (entirely) fair to blame Durant for joining the Warriors

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    Three days into the 2016 free agency period, Kevin Durant gave up a potential five year/$150 million contract to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    He had been there for nine years. He signed a short-term deal with the Golden State Warriors, who just came off an historic 73–9 season. Considered the biggest and most divisive free agency move since LeBron James to Miami in 2010, many media members and fans considered this a weak move. But why is it considered weak? What is deemed as a ‘weak move’?

    The popular perspective that solely blames Durant for leaving OKC for Golden State is taken in a more traditional way. It focuses on Durant’s personal characteristics. It focuses on his mental fortitude and competitiveness compared to past sporting triumphs. The main points used against Durant for joining the Warriors are as follows.

    • They already have three perennial NBA All-Stars (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green);
    • In 2015, The Warriors won the championship and Curry won his first MVP award;
    • In 2016, the team set the NBA record for most wins in a season (73–9), and Curry wins the NBA’s first unanimous MVP award, his second consecutive;
    • and in the 2016 Western Conference Playoffs, Durant’s Thunder were leading 3–1 against the Warriors and lost.

    Considering this context, Durant joining an already successful team who have proven they can win without his talents is seen as non-competitive. It is seen that he doesn’t possess the mental fortitude to bounce back and face the Warriors he was so close to beating, next season. Instead of competing against a formidable opponent, he chose to join them  –  eliminating the competition to win a championship, ultimately taking an easier route to achieve his goal and is therefore considered a weak move.

    We then look back through NBA history, with former greats referencing their experiences 30 years ago, highlighting that in previous eras great players would never leave their own team and join a rival to increase their chances of winning. For the traditional fan, the argument is more centred around Durant’s personality and how it compares with past figureheads of the sport, such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant – two iconic personalities that resonated with the everyday fan by facing tough competition and adversity, and finding a way to win.

    Acknowledging adversity is a key point in blaming Durant. Historically, society has taught us about adversity and its importance in life and survival. Stories of one character’s lone adventure to face an impossible challenge are told and retold to our younger generations as a cautionary tale to better prepare them for the real world.

    From biblical figures such as David against Goliath, to superheroes like Batman, society covets adversarial narratives because it is what people relate to most.

    Michael Jordan Tall

    (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    From Jordan’s triumph over the Pistons to Kobe’s 2010 Finals win over the Celtics, these victories over adversity are revered en masse by NBA fans. With Durant joining the Warriors, there has been little adversity faced en route to winning his first championship, contradicting what society has taught throughout history – getting what you want is hard and you have to face tough challenges to get it.

    So yes, when looking at the move from a more traditional perspective there is an argument in purely blaming Durant for joining the Warriors, and the majority of basketball fans agree. But let’s consider Durant’s move in a different light for a moment, and maybe we can acknowledge his game a little more without the vilification.

    Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) drives past Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant

    (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

    One of the main arguments against blaming Durant for leaving OKC, is to look at the move in a different context. Imagine the CEO of Samsung was offered the top position at Apple. Apple is currently achieving more success and is performing at the top of its industry with Samsung trailing.

    If Samsung’s CEO went to Apple, it would be considered a very good career choice. No scrutiny, no cupcake signs, nothing. So considering Durant’s move as a career choice, which it basically is, we would call it a good decision for him.

    He’s moving to a place that’s achieved more and can sustain their success with him. He’s also worked hard for an organisation where he didn’t choose to work for, for nine years, and this is the first time he has been given an opportunity to work somewhere else of his choosing.

    Surely he’s earned the right to explore his options as we would expect if we were in the same position.

    If we were to explore our options after nine years, one of our main criteria in joining a new organisation is culture. How does the organisation operate day-to-day? How do people interact with one another? Is there a sense of purpose to achieve a collective goal?

    We would surely join an organisation with an excellent team culture where everyone loves working together and has fun without internal tension.

    For Durant’s case, that is exactly what the Warriors have shown game-to-game. With the beloved Steve Kerr leading a hyper-paced free-flowing offense with a versatile team-oriented defence, the team plays with a certain joyful energy that is rarely seen on the basketball court and Kevin Durant just wanted a piece of that, like any other person looking to make a career move.

    It’s not his fault that he chose to work for a successful and culturally-rich organisation, we all would. So, if we consider Durant’s move outside of an emotionally-charged sporting context, there is an argument that the Warriors’ organisational management is more responsible for attracting him in the first place.

    Finally, let’s not forget the fundamental factor that made this move even possible – the unprecedented salary cap spike that settled during the latest collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the league and the players’ union.

    The $24 million rise in cap space gave the Warriors the perfect opportunity to create room by trading Andrew Bogut and not re-signing Harrison Barnes. It’s clear that the league is also responsible for Durant’s decision because if the league and the union agreed to a smoothing of the salary cap over a longer period, this situation could have been avoided and competitive balance would remain (somewhat) intact.

    After considering Kevin Durant’s decision outside of popular traditional perspective, there is a valid argument that there were other key factors that encouraged Durant to join Golden State and it’s not fair to solely blame him.

    It was the league’s decision-making that resulted in the cap spike that created the opportunity for Golden State, Golden State’s astute management and culture that made the opportunity possible, and Kevin Durant’s choice to take up the rare opportunity of historically greener pastures.

    Nevertheless, sport is all about entertainment and emotion, and it’s difficult for us to take emotion out of opinion, especially when it impacts our team as well as the entire sport. While Durant and the Warriors may have turned the league into chaos, let’s at least stop and acknowledge the game of basketball being played at its highest level again.

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • June 20th 2017 @ 8:22am
      mushi said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Yep, I was pulling together something similar but it is a preaching to the choir argument. There are those that think being a sportsman comes with a subjugation of rights which includes choice of employer. I don’t think point out that the want to subjugate those rights changes anything.

      Was it the “easy” option – um yes.

      Isn’t that the basis of every conscious decision to the progress of the human race how can I either get more or use less?

    • June 20th 2017 @ 9:48am
      Robbo said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      I’m not totally sure what message this article is trying to get across, but if an exec leaving Samsung for Apple caused Samsung to be non competitve in the industry, then people would be pretty upset if the only choice left was an Apple market monopoly.

      With a team of only 5 players and Durant being good enough to make or break a team, I think it’s fair that fans see his move as somewhat of a party issue. The limits of free agency are being pushed further and further with every move, Durant only took things a little further than Lebron had before him, most people saw Lebron’s move as balance breaking, now all those people and more see Durant’s the same way.

      It’s an issue the NBA needs to address because while ratings for the finals go up due to casual fans interest in super teams, I think other teams who have no chance of competing with Golden State will really struggle. Hence making ‘The Process’ the only viable option to a ring. What is the point for the Thunder now? Carry on with Westbrook and some other handy pieces to be an also ran for the next 5 years? never being close to GS. While teams like GS exist, the only way to compete is to have at least 3 superstars, so you either blow up the roster and lure them in FA to become another Cleveland or tank for multiple years ala Philly. When 1 or 2 teams are so far above the pack, it makes decent teams like Toronto and the Wizards irrelevant… they will spend the entirety of the time that GS remain together as teams that could have challenged in a more balanced league, but unable to hold a candle to GS.

      But this is nothing new for the NBA, superteams have long existed and if your team doesn’t have one of the 3 best players in the league to attract other talent then you have no chance.

      Here’s hoping that is all the high picks in Philly turn out that they don’t end up like the Thunder, losing them to superteams

      • June 20th 2017 @ 10:56am
        joe said | June 20th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        Philly had just better hope all these high draft picks actually PLAY as opposed to whether they stick around when their contract expires in a fee years.So far Embied,who looks awesome,has barely played.Maybe 35 games in 2 years.Simmons has yet to play a game after 1 season with the Sixers.
        Lets see them actually produce wins together & get Philly going in the right direction before worrying about where they go in 2020 or whatever it may be.

      • June 20th 2017 @ 11:08am
        jeff dustby said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Not a good comparison. apple and samsung are not in a league together.

        • June 20th 2017 @ 12:55pm
          Robbo said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

          I agree Jeff, but it is the one the author made. There are a million other factors as well, maybe the biggest being that basketball is 5v5, meaning 1 player has an enormous influence. Which is why Durant is the centre of so much discussion.

          • June 20th 2017 @ 4:17pm
            Mushi said | June 20th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

            I think the author is making the point that we want to deny Durant his fundamental right to chose.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 12:14pm
      Big Al said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

      It’s weak because he gave up on OKC. Winning championships is not easy, and when sportsmen struggle for year after year to finally reach the top and raise that trophy it’s immense and we as fans rejoice in it. Many champions fail too – Barkley, Malone and Ewing to name but a few. KD gave up on the struggle and took the easy option, sure he still had a lot of work to do during the year but it was easy. The playoffs were also a breeze for golden state this year, they swept all before them except for an amazing Cavs performance in 1 game where they scored 50 in the first qtr…that’s what it took to beat this team! He was virtually gifted a title and fans don’t respect that.

      The CEO comparison/argument is lame…Durant joined the Warriors because Kerr is a great bloke who lets them play care free basketball?! Puhleeeeasseeeee!

      Another point you don’t address is what this decision did to the league. As a neutral NBA fan (i.e. I don’t strongly support any one team) this playoffs was a dud. Very little drama, very little suspense, it all went according to script, a huge anti-climax.

      Here’s another side effect, Durant has seriously dented Steph Curry’s legacy. While playing with Durant will he be the regular season MVP again? Nope. Finals MVP? Nope. Scoring champion? Nope. He’s gone from being ‘the man’ on the team to a side-kick. You’d still easily consider Steph a top 10 point guard of all time after his career…but without Durant there to stifle him he could’ve competed with Magic for #1.

      • June 20th 2017 @ 1:07pm
        Robbo said | June 20th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

        It’s really tough to see the other side of this (durant’s) because pro sports is so different to the rest of the world, but there must be a middle ground between fans wanting competition and players wanting to win. Durant had the option for a guaranteed win, which is awesome for him, but a huge loss for every fan other than Warriors. How do you incentivise players to create competition and remain loyal when money clearly isn’t working.

        It hardly seems fair that if Westbrook wants to be payed max salary and be the man on his team, only bringing in other non top 5 players, he will never get close to beating GS. I’d rather watch a league where stars are spread out and Boston potentially adding Butler or PG still gets them no where near the Warriors.

      • June 20th 2017 @ 4:15pm
        Mushi said | June 20th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

        Gave up on okc?

        Okc gave up on 12 of the 14 guys he went to the finals with. And one of the two guys left played fewer minutes all year than Durant did vs Cleveland.

        Loyalty is a one way street I suppose.

        I’m actually an okc fan, I am just not wildly irrational.

        • June 21st 2017 @ 11:12pm
          Mushi said | June 21st 2017 @ 11:12pm | ! Report

          No follow up Big Al?

          Is that because you didn’t have knowledge of the fact pattern.. Or you’ve backed away from the rampant hypocrisy?

          • June 22nd 2017 @ 12:45pm
            Big Al said | June 22nd 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

            Nope, no follow up, just threw down an opinion but I see your reply now so I’ll bite.
            “Okc gave up on 12 of the 14 guys he went to the finals with.”
            -I agree, OKC did give up on those 12 players, that’s pretty standard in the NBA. Look at any NBA roster from 5 years ago and they’re all radically different from how they are today. I never said Durant had to stay and be loyal to OKC, I just said he gave up. He was free to go anywhere, he chose to go to the best team. He won a championship, he deserved the finals MVP, but it was earn’t cheaply and I have little respect for it.

      • June 22nd 2017 @ 5:54am
        Mushi said | June 22nd 2017 @ 5:54am | ! Report

        The argument about someone else’s legacy is, to use your own word, lame.

        So now NBA players need to weigh heavily how ill informed critics, who provide tacit acknowledgement that they are unable to process, will judge other players after they make a decision.

        Durant’s job is to play basketball. The NBA has gone through many periods of sustained dominance before and survived, I am sure Durant was responsible for that too.

        • June 22nd 2017 @ 12:46pm
          Big Al said | June 22nd 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

          “The argument about someone else’s legacy is, to use your own word, lame.”

          -My comment about Durant affecting Curry’s legacy was simply a comment, an opinion, a prediction and perhaps one day in the future it will be shown to be a fact. I said it was a side effect of Durant joining the team and wasn’t using it to slight Durant. I never said Durant should have thought about that in his decision. I just think it’s interesting that Durant is now the best player on the team, Steph #2. Steph will never win another MVP while playing with Durant.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 12:32pm
      Ryan H said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

      “Considering this context, Durant joining an already successful team who have proven they can win without his talents is seen as non-competitive. It is seen that he doesn’t possess the mental fortitude to bounce back and face the Warriors he was so close to beating, next season. Instead of competing against a formidable opponent, he chose to join them  –  eliminating the competition to win a championship, ultimately taking an easier route to achieve his goal and is therefore considered a weak move.”

      This. This is all the article needed to be. There is not if and but about this. It was weak, everyone knows it.

      The whole employer/employee garbage getting spruiked makes logical sense. However this is sport, it isn’t logical. People cheer for mean throwing balls in hoops because they are wearing a certain coloured jersey.

      You cant just jump to the Warriors like Durant and not expect the backlash he has received. He deserves it, and no matter the outcome over the next 3-5 years I think it has defined him. He will never be as great as he could of been.

      • June 22nd 2017 @ 5:58am
        Mushi said | June 22nd 2017 @ 5:58am | ! Report

        Never speak for “everybody” I think it’s “weak” to deny someone choice.

        If you can’t appreciate his ability in light of his decision that is condemnation of your ability and weaknesses of your character.

        • June 22nd 2017 @ 10:33am
          Ryan H said | June 22nd 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          I can appreciate his ability, he was incredible in the finals.

          Doesn’t change his decision, doesn’t make it not a weak move.

          Using “everybody” is clearly a way to describe the widespread thought amongst basketball followers, not an actual reflection of every single individuals exact thought. I will be more careful in the future.

          Pretty sure this has nothing to do with my character.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 2:24pm
      Swampy said | June 20th 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

      This is all a bit 5 year plans and sharing economy for my liking. Sorry to break it to you but communism largely failed. It’s a nice idea but the reality is humans always look for an edge and someone is always better off somewhere than the majority.

      It is not up to the NBA to even up its competition further – it does enough already via salary caps and drafts.

      I enjoyed watching GSW – they may be the best version of basketball we’ve ever seen. I follow no one but was hoping the Cavs could be victors in the Finals. Or at least competitive. We got great basketball in the finals. The Warriors were exceptional. I couldn’t ask for more. Appreciate what you saw rather than complain about it.

      It is up to the other clubs to assemble a team to beat/compete with the dubs. There are mechanisms to do this. Trades, drafts, free agents. New coaches.

      I find it appalling people whinged about this year – it’s been historically great to watch.

      Oh and OKC shouldn’t escape attention here – they did afterall let Durant see it through to the end of his contract.

      And Westbrook may not be all that much fun to play with.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 5:56pm
      BrainsTrust said | June 20th 2017 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

      In 2016 the turnaround was due to Bogut recovering physically, Bogut looked like he was playing injured in the first 4 games and then game 5 looked good again rather than Durant choking. CLeveland though also won when Bogut got injured so if Bogut had not recovered Durant could have won that year.
      I don;t see what the issue is, you can understand if Oklahama fans resent the move, is it anyone else business.
      Making a super team sounds good in theory, it can lead to a clash of egos, and it hasn;t worked in instances in the past.

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