If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em (How Kevin Durant Ruined the NBA)

There was a time when competitive nature was embraced. Most children growing up will tell you they were never taught to take the easy out or cheat their way toward the goals they set out to accomplish. The very notion of cutting corners could be a detrimental “skill” to teach a child who is still attempting to grasp what the world really is and their place in all of it.

Now enter the world of sports — the world of competition. Part of what makes sports so engaging and fun for both athletes and fans alike is the enjoyment of a grind, the excitement of a battle between two heavyweights or great teams. For years, the NBA has embraced this concept and thrived in the process. That is until superstar forward Kevin Durant single-handedly altered the future of the NBA.

The Warriors have done it again. Similar to last year, Golden State entered into the playoffs disengaged, slightly banged up and in a “slump.” When the games began to matter again; the Warriors have suddenly regrouped, dominating good playoff teams with unbelievable chemistry and shooting.

In a seven-game Western Conference finals, the 65 win No. 1 seed Houston Rockets — the leagues greatest offense (104.8 points per game) — was held under 100 points in five games. Between Durant and the greatest shooter in NBA history Steph Curry, Golden State has a dynamic duo that is unmatched and should have never been produced in the first place.

Golden State became the most celebrated regular-season team in NBA history after their league record 73-9 campaign in 2016. If Curry didn’t have a nagging ankle injury, Cleveland’s championship that season would have been unlikely. However, everyone knows the story, LeBron and star guard Kyrie Irving led the comeback from 3-1 down and pulled off the impossible task of dethroning the Warriors. That grave feat is exactly what led Durant out of Oklahoma City (OKC) to Golden State.

Before the Warriors surrendered a 3-1 series lead in 2016, they found themselves in a role-reversal during the Western Conference finals against the OKC Thunder. Durant, once the leader of OKC along with point guard Russel Westbrook allowed Curry and Golden State to win three consecutive games and ultimately change the course of Durant’s career and the trajectory of the NBA moving forward.

KD & Steph
Stephen Curry (L) and Kevin Durant (R) embrace after the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The essence of what makes sports fun was always supposed to be the competition from each side bringing out the best in one another. When observing the Durant situation, he clearly fell before the pressure of social media bloggers and television hosts in his quest for a title. Instead of seeing the mission through with OKC, who, in reality, should have defeated Golden State in 2016, he decided to join the 73 win juggernaut in July after they defeated his Thunder in May.

Some people point to LeBron joining future Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade in Miami as the blueprint that Durant simply followed, but the two circumstances couldn’t be more different. First, Durant has and never will face the same level of pressure James felt in his quest to become an NBA champion. James was a teenage prodigy who was tasked with becoming the face of the post-Michael Jordan NBA several years prior to being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although Durant was an exceptional prospect in his own right, he never faced anything close to the pressure James endured.

Second, James built a team from the ground up with Wade and former all-star power forward Chris Bosh. Outside of their “Big 3,” the remainder of the roster was essentially built from mid-level exceptions and veteran minimum contracts. On the other hand, Durant joined a championship roster with three all-stars already present and a strong cast of role players. There was no reinventing the wheel or figuring things out on the fly for Durant.

Lastly, LeBron didn’t join the team that defeated him. James once had a difficult time during his career surpassing the Boston Celtics crew that featured future Hall of Fame athletes Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. When James decided he wanted to leave Cleveland, joining Boston was never a thought, in fact, he made it known he joined Miami to try to defeat the tough Celtics team.

“I understood at that point in time that in order for me to compete for a championship and get to that next level, I had to figure out and get with some guys that could be on the same level as Paul, Ray, [Rajon] Rondo, KG, and those guys. I just didn’t feel like … to do it here, I was out calling guys in the summertime, trying to get guys to come here and guys just continued to decline offers from us.”

“And then at that time, we didn’t even have any money to go get anybody. I knew personally that D Wade was a free agent, I knew Bosh was a free agent, I knew Amare [Stoudemire] was a free agent, I knew Carlos Boozer was a free agent, so I knew I had to try and get some guys to try and get Boston, man. That was my whole mindset.”

James sought help to surpass the loaded Celtics —Durant joined Goliath!

Now the finest shooting backcourt (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson) in history is paired with Kevin Durant — one of the most prolific scorers to ever touch a basketball. With the NBA transitioning more into a spacing, shooting, and high tempo league, it doesn’t appear anyone will have a legitimate chance of defeating Golden State for the foreseeable future.

KD Game Winner
Kevin Durant (R) sinks the game-winning jump shot over a contested LeBron James (L). Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

In the past two Western Conference Finals series, the Warriors have been victorious by a double-digit margin in seven out of 11 games, including twenty-two, thirty-six and forty-one point victories. In last year’s finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to make a record 26 three-pointers just to win a single game in the short five-game series.

It’s a shame; fans should be looking forward to a highly competitive NBA championship series had Durant decided to stay with OKC or join any other viable contender out West. Instead, we settle for Cleveland – Golden State part 4, which should be a snooze for basketball fans everywhere.

The NBA has a problem, and the blame should be placed on Kevin Durant’s Shoulders!