NBA: With One Decision, Kevin Durant Broke The League


Now that Kevin Durant has joined forces with Golden State; What does that mean for the him, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the rest of the NBA?

A week ago, I wrote an article detailing an offseason roadmap for the Oklahoma City Thunder on the eve of free agency. In it, I detailed the multiple tough decisions the Thunder would be faced with this summer and how exactly the team could cope with each one. I missed a few things, however.

First of all, Dion Waiters has yet to receive a max contract offer. I thought for sure someone like the Kings or 76ers would throw Dion approximately all of the money and the Thunder wouldn’t be able to justify shelling out that much cash for a player of Waiters’ caliber. As of July 7, however, Waiters has yet to receive a major offer and now it seems somewhat likely that the Thunder could bring him back at a nice little discount for OKC.

Second of all, I grossly underestimated what rotation level players would be signing for. I thought guys like Jared Dudley, Courtney Lee, and Solomon Hill were all worth a look as potential MLE candidates for the Thunder. Dudley got the cheapest deal at $10 million a year.

And honestly, I think that about sums up all of my missteps.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

Well aside from the one tiny portion where I predicted that Kevin Durant would be back in Oklahoma City. I missed that one miniscule detail that rendered the ENTIRE article null and void. If you happened to open the link above, you can go ahead and click out because literally EVERYTHING in that write-up blew up in my face.

Every guess, hypothesis, conjecture, and musing revolved around one simple premise: Kevin Durant wasn’t going to be in any other city other than Oklahoma City…and now everything I created looks dismal in the aftermath.

All of which pales in comparison to the actual feelings of Sam Presti and the straggling remainder of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Obviously, in the short term this cripples any chance of Oklahoma City winning a title this year and makes Golden State all but assured of their second championship in just three years.

But even those shifts in the NBA landscape are dwarfed by the aftershocks that will likely rock the league for the next decade as a result of KD’s decision.

First (and perhaps the most obvious), the Golden State Warriors just became the greatest on-paper team of all time. A team that has won an unprecedented 140 games over the last two years just added a generational talent. Arguably the team’s weakest link in the NBA’s strongest chain was the fact that Harrison Barnes was prone to periods of awful-to-average shooting (manifested most cleanly by his 5 for 32 shooting line in Games 5-7 of the NBA Finals).

Golden State isn’t out to just avenge one Finals loss. They’re out to establish an absolute dynasty of unprecedented proportions and Durant is the key to all of it

Now replace those shot attempts with Kevin Durant’s perennial 50/40/90 touch and BOOM you’ve already exponentially improved the best team in the NBA.

But it goes deeper than that. Golden State isn’t out to just avenge one Finals loss. They’re out to establish an absolute dynasty of unprecedented proportions and Durant is the key to all of it. Golden State’s historically good offensive-machine finally got mucked up by both Cleveland and Oklahoma City utilizing their length and switching through every single one of the Warriors’ screens.

What were once clean looks for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were lost in a sea of limbs, leading to the Cavaliers finally capturing that elusive title.

That won’t work anymore. Take any combination of Golden State’s pick-and-roll game and there’s always an elite shooter off-ball you have to account for. For instance, in a Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll, both Durant and Thompson can space the floor, ensuring no help defender will be there to stop the attack.

Same thing goes for Curry/Thompson, or Durant/Green or any of their dizzying array of offensive options. And that’s the essence of the Warriors’ attack: They’re so diverse and talented you can’t possibly cover the entire floor. Any one member of the supposed “Super Death Lineup” can and will beat you.

Sure, the bench might be a little more shallow (although even that’s debatable) and there’s not a lot in the way of rim protection, but make no mistake, the Warriors are (injuries non-withstanding) going to ABSOLUTELY DEMOLISH the NBA for the foreseeable future. There will probably be some growing pains and rotation issues to sort through, but when you have four top-20 players on your roster, these things tend to work themselves out.

Oh and did I mention that everyone is 28 or younger? Better luck next decade, NBA.

The Thunder, on the other hand, are not so fortunate. This roster was tailor-made for Durant. Every roster move, every draft pick, every trade was built to accommodate their former superstar. Now he’s gone and the team is left to scramble around Russell Westbrook.

Obviously, OKC still has some intriguing pieces left. Steven Adams looks like a budding superstar, Enes Kanter continues to quietly be a top-3 offensive center in the NBA, and Victor Oladipo is the two way guard that the Thunder have been chasing ever since James Harden departed for Houston. But none of that matters until the team figures out what to do with their lone All-Star in Westbrook.

Russ is kind of an enigma right now. There’s conflicting reports everywhere, with some sources saying he is 100% gone from the Thunder after this season and others saying that Durant’s exit has galvanized the Brodie into staying in Oklahoma City.

More from Golden State Warriors

Until the Thunder or Westbrook’s camp says anything, it’s impossible to really read into what the future might hold for him.

That being said, Sam Presti has to try and figure this out within the next few weeks.

I would expect that within hours of Durant’s announcement, Presti was already trying to gauge Westbrook’s interest in signing an extension with the Thunder. Oklahoma City already lost one superstar to free agency and the results of that are going to be felt for years. Losing a second for nothing could cause irreversible damage.

The logical path of things says that there is no way Westbrook agrees to an extension right now. He would be costing himself millions and giving up valuable flexibility that is essentially indispensable in a contract year. I mean, maybe Westbrook is so pissed off at the universe that he signs one just to show that he’s willing to finish what Durant wouldn’t.

Stranger things have happened. But I certainly wouldn’t bank on it.

That being said, Westbrook could still commit to the Thunder without actually signing on the dotted line. Given Russ and his relative value to the city, I think a verbal agreement would be enough for Sam Presti to keep Westbrook around, re-sign Waiters, and go full #RussAgainstTheWorld as the Thunder’s new identity.

It would definitely be a risk though and if Russ ends up bolting anyways, Presti will take the brunt of the criticism.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

In the unfortunate event, however, that OKC can’t get a read on Westbrook’s intentions (or that said intentions are that he’s departing the Sooner State), the Thunder absolutely have to trade him.

The tricky part is what does that mean for the Thunder, Westbrook, and the rest of the league?

It’s obviously not a regular occurrence when a player of Westbrook’s caliber is on the trade block. Typically foundational, franchise pieces such as Russ are only obtainable through free agency and even then, only a select few franchises actually have legitimate shots at securing such a player.

You’re mistaken if you believe that every GM isn’t already trying to figure out what package they might be able to tempt OKC with.

The general fear for these teams, though, is that it might not be worth it to part with coveted assets in order to secure Westbrook’s services. No one wants to gut the future of their team for a one year rental and the market may reflect that.

Or maybe not.

Honestly, All-Star players in contract years have still managed to fetch major returns, despite all the risk entailed. Consider the last four major trades of stars on expiring deals:

Clearly, the ability to secure a star’s Bird rights and give yourself a year to recruit a guy instead of a few months is more powerful than we may acknowledge. There’s obviously reason for the Thunder to believe that given enough probing, they can get fair return for Westbrook.

The top two trade targets will likely be the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, given their wealth of assets and desire to land a foundational piece. I would think the Thunder would prefer for Boston to be the partner, due to their ownership of Brooklyn’s 2017 first rounder.

Any team that acquires Westbrook is going to improve into a fringe title contender. This means any draft considerations that the Thunder acquire in the trade will likely be a mid-first rounder at best. If he goes to Boston, however, the Brooklyn pick (if dealt) won’t be affected by a Celtics’ run to the conference finals.

I expect that to be Presti’s first call if/when it is deemed that Westbrook must be dealt. It’s really the only way to ensure that they get lottery compensation, no matter how the trade market shakes out.

And honestly, while it may be difficult for Thunder fans to swallow, this is likely the best course of action. As much as Oklahoma City loves Russell, they stand a very real shot at getting stuck on the mediocrity treadmill if they build from the middle with him. He will consistently deliver 40-45 wins a year, ensuring that the Thunder only land mid-level players in the draft. They’ll never be bad enough to fall into a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns or Jabari Parker and without another superstar joining the fold via free agency, probably won’t climb much past the Conference Semis.

Short of bringing in another marquee free agent (which the Thunder have had ZERO luck doing in their nine years of existence), it’s difficult to see the Thunder escaping this basketball purgatory.

It further compounds itself when you realize that the Thunder’s 2017 first rounder is top-14 protected. The only way Oklahoma City gets to keep its own first rounder is if they miss the playoffs. While tough to stomach, Thunder fans need to realize a vicious tenet of the current NBA: the fastest way to return to the top is to race to the bottom.

As for the rest of the league, it’s been widely speculated that the aftershocks of the new Golden State super-team is mostly a negative, caused by a largely unavoidable glitch in the system. Obviously without the cap explosion, Curry’s bargain deal, and Durant becoming a free agent at exactly the right time, none of this happens.

Unfortunately for teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Toronto Raptors, it did happen and their title hopes went from “dark horse-esque” to “absolutely-no-way-in-any-universe”. Consider that between last year’s two final contestants, seven of the top-20 NBA players will be appearing on their respective rosters.

That leaves 13 other players to be divvied up among the other 28 teams. I wouldn’t exactly call this Adam Silver’s vision of “player-sharing”.

Popular conjecture is that this could lead to another lockout in 2017 as small market teams appeal yet again to make it more difficult for star players to coalesce in the same city. Suggestions ranging from a hard cap (unlikely) to no max contracts for star players (looking increasingly likely) have been floated out there as means to prevent this from occurring under the next CBA.

All things considered though, it’s probably not as doom and gloom as some people have suggested. While parity would make things more interesting (and much more palatable for fan bases in places like Milwaukee and Charlotte), I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the outcome of the 2016-2017 season is inevitable.

We were so quick to anoint the 2010 Miami Heat and 2012 Los Angeles Lakers as sure-fire champions that we missed things like injuries, chemistry issues, and fatigue as major factors in a championship run that these teams couldn’t overcome.

must read: Four Possible Trade Destinations Fro Russell Westbrook

One thing if for sure though: Just when you think you’ve got the NBA figured out, it always finds a way to surprise you. Here’s to plenty more before this off-season is all said and done.