After Saturday night’s game, it became even more apparent the Thunder are in trouble without Kevin Durant. Durant dropped 34 points in just 32 minutes on his former team in a blow-out, 130-114 victory. He left a crowd, which was mocking and scorning him just a few hours previous, stunned and wondering just truly what they lost when Durant walked out the doors of Chesapeake Arena.
On July 4, 2016, Durant announced in a letter to The Player’s Tribune he was packing up and taking his basketball talents to play for the Golden State Warriors. This was an announcement met with outrage in Oklahoma City, where he spent nine seasons with the Thunder after they drafted him with the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
This was the best move for his basketball career.
Even before he played a game in a Warriors jersey, his move shook up the entire foundation of the National Basketball Association. It put pressure on Oklahoma City to resign or trade superstar, point guard Russel Westbrook so this couldn’t happen a second time. It made the teams who were still in the hunt for Durant to turn to their backup plans, and it took an already-historic team to a place no one has ever seen before in the history of professional basketball.
Never has there been a team with four of the top-15 players in all of basketball on the same team. Durant left one superstar behind in Oklahoma to join up with three of them in California. He still has a superstar point guard in two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry, he has an all-time great shooter playing next to him with Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green is so versatile he can play any position on the court.
The first major factor on why Durant’s leaving was a good thing is the wealth of opportunities for winning that opened with his move. Durant left a Thunder team which lost to the very same Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, after leading 3-1 in the series.
The Warriors defeated James and his Cleveland Cavaliers team in the finals during the 2015 season. They broke Michael Jordan and the 1996 Chicago Bull’s NBA record for best single-season record of 72-10 when they went 73-9 before defeating Durant’s Thunder squad and advancing to rematch King James in the finals.
The Warriors may have lost the series to the Cavaliers in seven games, but it showed Durant there was an open opportunity for him to join an organization which was already sitting at the top of the mountain. He took the shot, and even now, ridicule is still thrown at him.
NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley was one of the most vocal players who showed their disappointment in Durant.
“I was disappointed,” Barkley said on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike back in July. “I was disappointed like I was disappointed when LeBron went to Miami. Kevin is a terrific player. He’s a good kid. But [I’m] just disappointed with the fact that he weakened another team and he’s gonna kind of gravy train on a terrific Warriors team.”
Perhaps the most important factor of all, Durant’s moved opened up doors for his performance to have exponential room for growth.
In his last year with the Thunder, Durant averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal in 72 games with 35.8 minutes per game. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, 38.6 percent from the 3-point arc and 89.8 percent from the free throw line.
However, Durant is more efficient in nearly every category this season playing in Oakland.
Sure, he isn’t averaging as many points, but its because he doesn’t need to carry the load like he did with Oklahoma City. He can easily drive and pass it out to an open Curry, or Thompson for a quick three, or pick-and-roll with Green, or Curry to get a shot of his own.
He is averaging the same or better in every other stat barring free-throw percentage. He is taking better and more uncontested shots while playing with players who take up more attention than Westbrook did alone.
The only downside in plain sight for the Warriors is the depth of their bench. They have a few, good, role players, but it isn’t enough to offset what the Warriors’ had to give up in the offseason to get Durant, namely the players who helped them win a championship in 2015.
The Warriors fixed their chemistry issues within the first few months and now they are rolling in the Western Conference, holding the top spot and are 2.5 games ahead of the second-place San Antonio Spurs.
Overall, I don’t believe Durant left Oklahoma City because he wanted to cause pain to the fans who supported him for eight of his nine seasons. He left to improve himself as a basketball player.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant said in his letter to The Player’s Tribune. “I will miss Oklahoma City, and the role I have had in building this remarkable team. I will forever cherish the relationships within the organization — the friends and teammates that I went to war with on the court for nine years, and all the fans and people of the community. They have always had my back unconditionally, and I cannot be more grateful for what they have meant to my family and to me.”
The drama will be back on Sunday, Feb. 19 when Westbrook will be coming off the bench in the Western Conference All-Star team — a team with Durant on it, coached by Warriors’ Head Coach Steve Kerr and hosting three other Warriors on the roster.