Heartbreak is a horrible, torturous thing. Relationship experts state it takes at least half the time you were with someone to overcome the pain of permanent separation. Realistically, there is a part of that pain which may never subside. As far as Kevin Durant's departure to the Golden State Warriors goes, it may haunt Oklahoma City for a very, very long time.
Durant made his declaration via the Players Tribune early on July 4th, as Independence Day will now haunt many from around the world, but particularly in the state of Oklahoma where Durant was considered by many as more than just a franchise player. He was a favorite son, an Oklahoman Hall of Famer and the darling of the entire state. Words do not embody what Durant meant to the people who loved him so dearly.
This broke the heart of millions, and the response was unlike anything else seen since the departure of LeBron James to the Miami Heat from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010. Jerseys are being burned, Durant is being called a traitor, and will be described by some sections as the man who took the easy way out. For some it was anger:
People in OKC are NOT happy with KD. Here's Big Rich, who runs the Pink Parrot, one of the best bars out there. pic.twitter.com/62xIVxmf99— Landry Locker (@LandryLocker) July 4, 2016
For some it was straight devastation.
From a city's standpoint, a final goodbye on the front page of The Oklahoman:
The Oklahoman's front page on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 pic.twitter.com/PWpJBsleNi— TheOklahoman (@TheOklahoman) July 5, 2016
The James and Durant departures share striking similarities. Both were idolized by the cities they played in and were the golden boys of their franchises. Their decisions have crippled not only their teams but their city, such is the scale of the decision that they made.
LeBron James was the star born locally and drafted by his hometown team, the man who was going to end decades upon decades of pain. James tried again and again, but always fell short a step too soon when it came to the postseason. But for that stretch of time, he was Cleveland. After one failure too many, an opportunity unlike any other was pitched to him by Pat Riley, and he joined best friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach forming a super team that would become the villains of the entire league.
Durant is one of the forefathers of the Thunder, and is one of the key pillars the franchise was built on. The Thunder are not who they are today without his incredible talents. Durant was at the forefront of everything did since their move from Seattle, with numerous deep runs into the postseason, doing everything but winning it all.
The similarities between James and Durant? They both gave everything they had, and despite the love and affection they had for their franchise and cities they were offered better basketball scenarios elsewhere. From a business and basketball stand point their decisions seem logical. These decisions though are never that simple.
There is no proper response to this decision. Anger, outrage, acceptance, betrayal, denial, anything. It's all understandable. Burning jerseys is a bridge too far of course, but every single person in this scenario chooses to handle their grief or elation (if you're from the Bay Area) differently.
It will be nothing but jubilation from the West Coast, as the Warriors celebrate acquiring the star they had been chasing covertly for the last two seasons. It had seemed as if Durant was set to extend his stay for at least another year with the Thunder, and the common thought heading into free agency was that it was an 80-90% probability that a new deal would be signed.
The Warriors would not give up though. Draymond Green in particular was a heavy recruiter of Durant. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala also played key roles, as their pre-exisiting relationships with the now former Thunder star turned pivotal in their chase to bring him to the Bay Area.
Jerry West's phone call on the weekend may have been the closer, as he sold the forward on becoming the all-around star he deserved to be known as, instead of as simply the league's most complete scorer. It was a smart ploy; Durant has often spoke of how proud he is of his rebounding and defense, now perhaps under Ron Adams and Steve Kerr's tutelage it will be fully utilized. It is a very scary two-way proposition for opponents.
His new teammates sold him on system and culture. A selflessness where there was no battle for being "the" star, or the face of the franchise, that current undisputed number one Steph Curry could care less about any battle between Under Armour and Nike for shoe sales, that he'd love for Durant to win more MVP awards. The players wanted to win championships and they wanted to do it with Durant.
Warriors General Manager Bob Myers echoed the same message, but with incentive:
In meeting, Bob Myers told Durant: Without you, we can another title or two. Without us, you might win too. Together? We'll win a bunch.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 4, 2016
It worked, and barring a DeAndre Jordan-like scenario, Kevin Durant will not be returning to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That is also not likely in the future, as Durant has signed the one plus one he was rumoured to sign with the Thunder all season long, worth $54.3 million. This will allow him to opt out next summer and sign a four-year max deal at the 10 year veteran rate of $31.9 million (under current projections for 2017-18) with 4.5 per cent raises on non-bird rights. If he wants to get the full max at around $35.2 million, the Warriors will need to clear cap space again next summer.
Meanwhile, his former squad face an immediate and incredible predicament and a terrifying future. Because of Durant's one plus one deal, he cannot be sign-and-traded, meaning he will be lost for nothing. The long-term future of the franchise has never been so uncertain, even though losing their franchise player has always been a possibility. Whilst perhaps the organization knew more than the public, fans did not expect Durant to leave. Serge Ibaka before his trade to Orlando was perhaps the most likely to depart, or maybe Russell Westbrook would want to go back to Los Angeles as it had been speculated. But Durant? Surely not.
Now that is the stark reality facing one of the league's perennial contenders this decade. The first conundrum involves their one remaining star, Westbrook. Out of contract in the free agency bonanza of summer 2017, the Thunder number zero will be Sam Presti's first priority.
Brian Windhorst reported that this will in fact be the case, as the Thunder consider a number of options going forward. The first point of order was renegotiating his contract with an extension this summer, but this makes no sense for Westbrook from a financial standpoint. He can't get a full five years this summer, and wouldn't get the same amount of money. NBA analyst David Aldridge all but confirms it:
Told emphatically by league source there's no chance Russell Westbrook will do a renegotiation/extension of his contract (one yr remaining).— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 4, 2016
The more likely conversation will be if OKC can get a long term commitment from Westbrook, even if it is only verbal. If he cannot guarantee that, it would time to consider trading the last superstar they currently possess. It would continue the heartbreak Oklahoma City are feeling right now, but it would be in the best interests of the franchise. A trade, even though Westbrook has a year to run, would reap one of the biggest hauls the NBA has seen in recent times.
Westbrook's hometown Los Angeles Lakers may certainly be willing to come to the table, and have had a long standing interesting in bringing him home as their franchise player. Even though he has only a year to run, the Lakers may be able to get a long term commitment from him.
This may entice them to send an interesting package of young players such as D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram or whoever Sam Presti desires, but who would be sent in such a deal remains to be seen. Boston would be another contender for him, as they have plenty of assets and a serious desire to acquire a superstar of Westbrook's calibre.
The Thunder now face a future as a rebuilding team unless Westbrook commits to be built around long term. That would allow them to have their star guard, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo and more to be used as the pieces placed around him. Without him, their future is precarious.
It will be the Thunder as their fans have not seen them since their move from Seattle. The Kevin Durant heartbreak is very raw, but the questions may only just be beginning in Oklahoma City.
Here's Kevin Durant's picture coming down outside the arena: pic.twitter.com/xRR6tEMCV8— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 5, 2016