Even for those who didn’t see Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder coming; even for those shocked that he signed with the Golden State Warriors; it’s evident that this wasn’t just a whim or hasty decision. This is something that Durant has been thinking about for quite some time, with a number of reasons, including the partnership with Russell Westbrook, but mostly the desire to ease his way towards a championship, pushing him in that direction.
1. Russell Westbrook
During his time with the Thunder, Durant has always been defensive whenever Westbrook was criticized, or their iso-heavy style was being mentioned as the reason they still haven’t won a championship. But from time to time, Durant has mentioned how much he appreciates the way the San Antonio Spurs play, with their ball movement, off the ball movement, and so on and so on. Maybe Durant isn’t that big of a friend of Westbrook’s, and maybe playing next to Westbrook and knowing he’s losing possessions to someone who isn’t as good of a scorer as him, not to mention decision maker. A few more years of that didn’t seem that lucrative for Durant, so he decided to bolt.
2. Can’t Beat ’em? Join Them
This is part of one big reason (championship, and fast) broken down into a number of them. Durant, maybe with the help of the people around him (father, best friend, agent), realized that the window to winning a championship, or at least making it out of the West, is very narrow in the next few years. The Thunder were as close as possible to doing it against the Dubs a few months ago, but choked with a 3-1 lead. Despite Billy Donovan arriving and the changes the Thunder made, Durant decided it’s better to join the most loaded team in the NBA than fight a difficult battle against them.
Durant was critical of LeBron James when joined the Miami Heat in 2010, and also, in a gentler way, when he left the Heat with two NBA titles on his back, to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And while James became the most hated NBA player in the league for leaving a team that was nothing without him to a better situation and play with good friends, he established his legacy as an NBA champion, a winner, and one of the greatest, although there are those who prefer to cling on to “choker”, “not clutch” and his finals losses. And unfortunately, too many times players are measured due to the championships they’ve won (and led, with James winning three Finals MVPs). Maybe Durant will have the same asterisk next to his name for “betraying” the Thunder, but if he wins a championship and plays a big part in it, it’ll be worth it.
4. Win a championship as soon as possible
Pretty much sums up the two previous reasons. Durant is tired of the promise of the Thunder’s talented roster, with him and Westbrook headlining the show, falling short. After the Thunder lost in the 2011 conference finals, it felt like they’re a step away from becoming a serious threat on the NBA for years to come. Then came the finals in 2012, which the Thunder had home court advantage, a 1-0 lead, and still blew it. But it felt like this team, with young superstars in Durant & Westbrook, with a young support cast in Serge Ibaka and James Harden, was going to win multiple championships. But then Harden left, and bad luck happened, and the Thunder never lived up to those expectations. Durant wanted to be in a place with more help, and where there’s no promise for a better future; the present in Golden State is already great.
5. The long game
Some think that Andre Iguodala and others on the Warriors have been slowly turning Durant in their direction for quite some time. It’s been mentioned that Iguodala and Curry played with Durant in the 2010 FIBA world championships, and the connection was struck there. I think it’s just the media making easy connections that aren’t necessarily true. But the Warriors made a great pitch to Durant. They told him how great he’d be, they’d be together. And Jerry West, maybe the brightest basketball mind in the last 30 years, delivered a finishing touch.