Kevin Durant has left the Thunder and joined the Warriors. And with that decision, his own Decision, an entire NBA landscape has been altered. The WTLC staff breaks down some of our thoughts and emotions during the fall-out of Durant's decision.
1. What was your initial reaction and emotions when you heard the news regarding Durant?
R.K. Anthony: I wasn't surprised he moved on. All the signs were there. Signing with Roc Nation in the first place, selling his home for a half a million under market value, and finally this whole dog and pony show KD put the entire basketball world through this weekend. What shocked me was learning it came down to OKC and Golden State. I'm sorry to sound bitter, but joining the team you could not beat after choking in back to back games to close a series is weak. I always knew KD wasn't the true alpha on this team, but I never thought he would be a bandwagon-er.
Brandon Jefferson: Confusion. Kevin Durant is my favorite basketball player and he is now gone. The rush of adrenaline as I clicked open the Player Tribune's post link from KD grew as the page loaded. It only worsened when I didn't see the words "Oklahoma City Thunder" in the first two paragraphs. KD has been an amazing player during his nine-year career with OKC and an even better human with his contributions to the state of Oklahoma--donating $1 million to hurricane relief, building basketball courts throughout Oklahoma and many more charitable donations. It is disappointing that he saw the Warriors as a better opportunity to further his basketball career, and I believe this was solely a basketball decision, as Durant stated in his exit interview this year. The chance to play with three other top 15 players was too much to turn down in the end.
Bobby Chancellor: To be honest, I lost hope Sunday night. At that point, I resigned myself to whatever happened, and so when I saw the news on Monday morning, all I could do was sigh. I guess the natural feeling is betrayal and anger, but I don't think that's entirely fair. Kevin Durant did a lot for this team and this state. This decision doesn't change that.
Joshua Broom: Shocked to say the least. Durant was indelibly ingrained within OKC culture. However, in today's NBA climate I semi-expected something of this magnitude to transpire. It's the way things have shaped up since an unbelievable NBA Finals.
Not that I didn't forsee a situation like this happening, it's just difficult to fully process at the moment. I believe Durant's legacy will take a considerable hit due to the circumstances.
J.A. Sherman: At present, I'm down in Orlando covering the Thunder's summer league. It's a fascinating scene and perhaps the only one where you go into the gym and it's nearly silent because the spectators are team officials, scouts, and media. If you're a fan, you have to hide it. And yet in a sense it is the purest form of watching the game because it forces you to watch and to listen unlike anywhere else to see if you can identify the same strengths and weaknesses as the very best who are literally sitting next to you.
It is within this context, watching the Thunder's unveiling of the strength of their young players try to bolster a contender, that the Durant news broke, and with it, such a remarkable sadness came with it. With a verbal agreement and a post on a website, this team is forever and irrevocably changed, as is this very site that covers them so diligently. And to me, a great, great story, filled with highs and lows, doesn't get to be finished.
2. As the weekend hours went by, how sure were you that Durant was either going to stay or leave, and how big of a whiplash did the breaking news cause you?
R.K.: If the two year deal with OKC was going to happen, this whole thing would have been wrapped up just like KD's last contract was, quick and painless. He might have talked to some teams, but this would have been wrapped up yesterday at the latest. Again, the only whiplash effect was caused by where he chose to go, words really cannot express how disappointed I am in KD right now. Sure, he may win that ring he wants, but it will be tarnished.
Brandon: I held on to my belief that KD would remain in OKC until the Fourth of July. As the minutes turned into hours and I still awaited Durant's final decision I began to feel that there was a possibility that KD could leave. During my constant updates of Twitter I saw more and more pundits/reporters/insiders/etc. begin to talk about rumblings of KD choosing Golden State. As I mentioned above I didn't read the letter KD wrote when it first was posted. I scanned it until I saw that he had decided to join the Warriors. It wasn't until about two hours later I was able to fully digest what KD wrote and understand his reasoning for deciding to leave OKC.
Bobby: It was a real roller coaster. I was certain he was staying, then I thought he may leave, then that he would sign a 1+1, and finally resignation. The breaking news was more cathartic than anything.
Joshua: I had an inkling the talent grab following Ibaka's trade was Presti's way of preparing for a Durant exit while immediately building around Westbrook. After draft night I began entertaining the idea KD could potentially join the Warriors, thus creating the scariest lineup in league history. The whiplash is just now settling in for me. I'm not keen on the competitive imbalance the Golden State Warriors now present to the league's other 29 teams.
Sherman: As the chatter around the newsroom and on social media picked up steam, and then to learn that the Thunder asked for a second meeting with Durant after the Warriors made their pitch, I knew that OKC's hold on the situation had slipped. I don't know to what degree losing Al Horford to the Celtics impacted things, But I thought Marc Spears wrote it best, saying that the decision was 90% made in OKC's favor:
There probably isn’t a human more adored in Oklahoma City than Durant. "Stay KD" billboards are all over town and No. 35 Thunder jerseys are as commonplace as cowboy boots. Presti has kept a championship caliber roster around Durant and has his trust.
Along with that, there were all of the rational reasons to go along with it - the money, the potential for another MVP run, a clear shot at winning a championship, and the fact that the Warriors' position of dominance had been cracked then shattered during these past finals. What exists in OKC, Durant built that. What he's moving to, he had nothing to do with, and he will never get to lay claim to that again. That, to me, is the most stunning aspect. He's willingly become a hired gun 8 years before he needed to be.
3. If you were to guess, what do you think was the final tipping point that led Durant to choose the Warriors?
R.K.: The path of least resistance? My grandmother always said if you don't have something nice to say don't say anything... read into that what you will.
Brandon: JERRY WEST. The logo has powers unknown to us ordinary humans. He brought together Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in Los Angeles and has now one-upped that with reeling in KD to GSW. The foursome of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, KD and Draymond Green is on paper the greatest collection of youth and talent that the NBA has ever seen together. Him calling Durant and explaining that past greats have had other all-star and Hall of Fame caliber talents surround them when they won probably helped smooth over any worries about bandwagon jumping in KD's mind. The Warriors pitch was surely top-notch as well and having the support and buy-in from Curry, Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala helped; Bob Meyers, Joe Lacob and Steve Kerr sold their style of play and culture to KD too. However, in the end if Thunder fans want to blame someone outside of Durant for him leaving, then blame the logo.
Bobby: The volume of peer pressure. I think it's natural for friends to be less likely to try and press the decision, and so the voices for OKC were probably less loud. But so many people were pushing him towards Golden State, and they had no concern for him making his own decision.
Joshua: I believe the tipping point for Durant came in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals when he was unable to get over the proverbial hump. I also feel Durant's conversation with Jerry West swayed his final decision.
Sherman: There are things that you know at age 27 that you don't know at age 17. And there are things that you know when you're 37 that you don't at 27. Lastly, there are things you know at age 78 that your 17, 27, and 37 year old versions of yourself would find silly. As someone closer to 37 than 78, my view of Durant's decision is wrought with downside and disappointment. But a 78 year old Jerry West knows the things that the 17, 27, and 37 year old all know, plus another 40+ years of life that I don't yet have. From my vantage, I don't get it. I'd like to assume that West does, and maybe some day I will too. According to reports, West made his pitch on 2 fronts - that Durant's job would be easier, and that West lived with the disappointment and regret of only winning 1 championship in 9 attempts. To this I wonder though - is the easier path always the better one; and did KD think to ask West, "So if you could have, you're saying you would have left the Lakers and joined the Celtics?"
4. What do you think this does to Durant's legacy?
R.K.: I followed Twitter and social media all morning and the consensus long before the announcement came was that joining the Warriors would kill Durant's image, and I agree. Two years of basically blowing sunshine up his fans butts about how much he loved OKC and wanted to retire here, see his jersey hanging from the rafters, wearing the white hat, all up in smoke...what a crock. Had he done what he said and stuck it out, win a ring or not, he could have been a legend. My thoughts at the end of the season were that if KD walked away he was a fool, so why change now?
Brandon: If/When KD collects his ring(s) with the Warriors, it will only help build what is a pretty damn good resume: 2013-14 MVP, four-time scoring champion, Olympian, seven-time All-Star, 2007 Rookie of the Year, and 2011-12 All-Star game MVP. All that was missing was a championship, and right now the Warriors are a clear-cut favorite to win the 2016-17 NBA title. Would it have been more impactful winning with the Thunder? Yes, but in this age of Twitter debate and hot takes, where Durant wins a title isn't going to be held over his head when he ultimately is judged as a player. KD remains a top-three player in the NBA and as long as that is the case he can only add to his legacy during his stint with Golden State.
Bobby: It's a giant scar for sure. Going to Boston would have been different. To jump to a team that just set the win record and beat you after you were up 3-1 is cheap, plain and simple. Any rings he wins with the Warriors will have a giant asterisk when people discuss his success. And people remember that when talking about the greats.
Joshua: I feel this taints Kevin's legacy as a competitor. Now the four-time scoring champ will forever be known as the poster child for the "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality.
Sherman: I suppose it comes back to the question of what Durant wants his legacy to be. For 8 years, he said it was one thing. I think that perhaps the fear of never winning, and especially the fear of injury (either his own or another key player's) weighed into his decision. How easy it is for even the very best team to fall short because injuries halt their potential, as we saw for the Thunder in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and then the Warriors a month ago. In other words, it does seem like his legacy at this time is more defined by the fear of not reaching his expectations of becoming a champion than anything else, something that seemed to manifest the most during game 6 of the WCF. Many have already written it, but those final 5 minutes of game 6 are going to haunt OKC for a long, long time.
5. What do you think this does to the Thunder next year and beyond?
R.K.: That depends on Russell. He was always the heart and soul of this team anyway and it forces Presti to take a firm position and find out where Russell stands. Presti ended up with an empty sack after this KD fiasco and that can't happen twice nor does this team need another year being held hostage like they were this season. I love Russell, but if he wants to wait and see like KD did, if I were Presti, he could do it elsewhere and I would restock the coffers with draft picks.
Brandon: The reports have begun that the Thunder have offered Russell Westbrook an extension in hopes of locking him down before he too becomes a free agent. We saw that Presti is a proactive general manager in his trades of James Harden and Serge Ibaka before either could leave as free agents. A group of Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Enes Kanter, Stephen Adams and potentially Dion Waiters can contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the days of OKC being an elite team are gone. Worst case scenario, Presti and co. are unable to get Westbrook to commit long-term and if that's the case the Thunder will look to get what they can for the superstar guard in a trade. If Westbrook is gone, then look for a full-on rebuild to begin for the Thunder. However, if there's any team I trust to conduct a a succesful rebuild its OKC. The last time they had to construct one they ended up with Durant, Jeff Green, Westbrook, Ibaka and James Harden in three consecutive years.
Bobby: OKC has a lot to think over. They still have one of the best in Westbrook, but KD left a hole that we can't fill this offseason. Losing a franchise guy like that takes time to recover from. What I do think is that we have a lot of young talent to enjoy watching grow, and for that, I'm excited.
Joshua: For all intents and purposes Durant's defection ends OKC's immediate chances at contention. However, looking long-term, this isn't necessarily a death knell to the team's future -- even though replacing a once in a generation performer like Durant is rare. Now Sam Presti's brilliance and foresight must take the forefront for OKC to rebound from this ultimate setback.