A historic, thrilling NBA season just concluded. Is it time for basketball fans to forget about basketball for a few months? Hardly. This off season, including last week’s draft, will provide plenty of entertainment. In addition to the seemingly inevitable drama around clubs and celebrities, there are a number of key free agents and potential free agents. One of the biggest is Kevin Durant, currently of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
KD is one of the best players in the game and plays with another superstar in Russell Westbrook. Yet, due to a combination of bad coaching, good opponents, and unfortunate injuries, KD has never won an NBA championship and has only been to the NBA finals once, in 2012.
One possible landing spot for KD is the Golden State Warriors. It would make a lot of sense for him to go there. Because of Steph’s ridiculously cheap contract and the impending salary cap bump, the Warriors should be able financially to fit KD in their plans.
So why should KD choose the Warriors over other destinations (and, to be clear, it will be his choice)? The reasons are simple and fairly obvious. He’ll be able to make a lot of money and put himself in the best position to win a championship.
He could stay in OKC and be on a good team. But playing with Steph, Klay, and Draymond is much more likely to lead to a championship than playing with Russ, Steven Adams, and Victor Oladipo.
The Warriors have a better core than any other team KD could join. And he fits in well. He slides into Harrison Barnes’s spot except he’s a better shooter, dribbler, passer and is longer (though not as strong) for defense and rebounding. A lineup of Steph, Klay, Draymond, KD, and Iguadola (or a true center) would be terrifying for other teams. It would be great to amazing on defense and nearly impossible to stop on offense. If KD was left open (as Barnes was), his already prolific scoring would explode. If KD’s defender stayed on him, the spacing and lack of double teams would lead to open 3s and layups for the rest of the team.
Similarly, playing with the Warriors’ core is likelier to lead to a championship than playing with any other teams’ core. The active Spurs players are neither as good nor have as much recent winning experience as the Warriors. The Lakers might be good in the future, but aren’t ready now. Other teams aren’t even close.
I’m not an expert on NBA financials, but my understanding is the Warriors could sign KD to a max contract or KD could sign a one-year deal and re-up for a max deal next year when the salary cap increases. Either way, KD will be making a lot of money. And playing for a championship team, but especially one located in the Bay Area, with its large media market and healthy economy, will allow for even more endorsement money, which is probably even more important long-term for KD than his NBA salary.
The biggest argument against KD going to the Warriors is that it would somehow tarnish his legacy, having to go to an established team to win a championship would somehow lessen his accomplishments. This is a bunk argument. When people discuss MJ, Kobe, and LeBron, the first thing people talk about is the number of championships they won. When people discuss Karl Malone, Barkley, and so many others, the first (and sometimes only) thing they say is that they failed to win a championship. It’s much more important to win a championship and avoid being one of the greats who couldn’t get it done than being someone who had to move teams to win. LeBron will always be a three-time champion even though he needed to go to Miami (and team up with Wade and Bosh) to win his first two and only came back to Cleveland once they had Kyrie (who hit the series-winning shot this year) and the number one pick, which was used to get Kevin Love. All of the all-time greats played with other great plays. MJ had Pippen, not to mention Rodman, Steve Kerr, and a slew of others. Kobe first had Shaq and then Gasol and others. Duncan had Ginobli and Parker in addition to Coach Pop and deep benches.
KD will likely never be mentioned in the same conversation as the all-time greats. And that’s fine! There’s no shame in that. But if there is any chance of that happening it’s going to be because he won three, four, or five championships. And to do that he’s going to need a better team with ownership that’s willing to spend money (let’s not forget that the Thunder could have had a core of KD, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka but didn’t want to pay the luxury tax).
Maybe KD loves Oklahoma City. Maybe he loves playing with Russ. Maybe he loves playing for Billy Donovan. If those things are the case, he may want to stay in OKC. He’s going to be rich and famous regardless of where he goes (or stays).
But if he wants to increase the odds he’s remembered long after he retires, staying on a more “pure” team is not the way to do it (also, even if OKC with KD does win a championship there’s probably just as good a chance that he won’t be seen as being the best player on the team as if he goes to the Warriors and wins one). Winning is. And the Warriors offer KD the best chance to win now and for the foreseeable future. KD to the Warriors makes a lot of sense. Now we’ll just have to see if it happens.