When Kevin Durant announced Monday he will leave Oklahoma City to play for the Golden State Warriors, I could hardly be shocked.
Surprised a little, but not shocked.
Reports have flown about Durant meeting with several teams to discuss his plans during this year’s crazy free-agency period, teams like the Spurs, Heat and Clippers.
But if Durant was going to go anywhere, it had to be to the team that embarrassed his in the Western Conference Finals last year. Remember when the Thunder had Golden State and their NBA-record 73 wins on the ropes with a 3-1 series lead?
This move is purely a ring chase.
It’s the typical case of “if you can’t beat them, join them” and the pattern that has been laid out in the NBA for how to win a championship.
My social media feeds are still clogged with videos of Thunder fans burning No. 35 jerseys and Chesapeake Energy Arena staff members tearing down Durant’s roster posters down from the space above entryways, and I can’t help but to remember similar events over my lifetime.
Cavs fans burned LeBron James jerseys after he took his talents to South Beach, and who can blame them after the way he announced his decision. It took James a little while to mesh with his new teammates — remember how awful the 2010-11 Heat were when they tried to play as a team against the Mavericks — but when it worked for the Heat, it really worked and they won two titles in a row and fell in Game 7 to the Spurs in 2014.
James followed a similar pattern of superteam building when he went back to Cleveland and made the finals for the fifth and sixth years in a row, finally winning last season while playing with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
It’s the same pattern the Spurs have used for seemingly the past 100 years with Tim Duncan and company all playing together for their fifth championship since 1999 for considerably less money than they would undoubtedly receive if they all chased big paychecks in free agency.
Now Golden State is the obvious favorite to win next season’s NBA title with Durant as the newest member of the Splash Brothers, joining Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — which I guess we should now call the Splash Family.
And while the move gives the Warriors arguably the best starting lineup in the league, it comes at a cost to the team’s depth — Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes will have to go.
That might still be OK, but depth is mandatory when it comes to winning championships after a long, tough season.
Either way, Durant’s ring chase reminds me a lot of the free agency period before the 2003-04 season.
The Jazz hadn’t been anywhere close to winning in the NBA Finals for the five seasons since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago superteam devastated basketball fans in Utah in back-to-back seasons. We all knew the pick-n-roll duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone wasn’t going to win a championship.
There’s probably no one who knew that better than Malone himself, evident by his signing a one-year contract with the LA Lakers, the team that had won three of the past four championships at the time.
And while Malone, often injured during that final season, did get to the NBA Finals that year, the Lakers were dominated by Ben Wallace’s Detroit Pistons in a short 4-1 series.
The Mailman was hated by some in Utah, but looking back on the whole event trail I think it worked out OK. While Jazz fans would obviously prefer one of their stars to win a ring in Salt Lake City, winning one at all with a hated rival would maybe have been better than not winning one at all.
It’s hard to say, now that it’s been more than a decade without the Mailman throwing down his hammer dunks.
And while Durant is in a very different time in his career than Malone when the two of them bailed to join a conference rival in hopes of winning a championship, there are still too many questions regarding the former Seattle Supersonic.
Will Durant be able to mesh with his old rivals and new teammates? Will they be able to beat the Cavs or whichever Eastern Conference team will challenge them in the Finals if they even get out of the West? Will the former Texas star go back to Oklahoma City if they win it all or will he stay in Oakland? Or will he sign somewhere else entirely?
Tavin Stucki is a sports writer from Midvale, Utah, who figures there’s no point anymore unless you decide to jump on the Warriors bandwagon. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.