3 take-aways from the Kevin Durant decision

 

By Michael Kinney

Kevin Durant caused a massive ripple throughout the NBA and the world of sport Monday when he announced he was leaving Oklahoma City to go play for the Golden State Warriors. While it made fans in Oakland happy, it left a fan base in Oklahoma dispirited and worried about the future.

Durant had every right to choose to play for any team that wanted him. But he happened to choose the one team that would cause the most controversy.

Here are my three quick take-aways from the entire day.

  1. Alpha Males are a dying breed: No great player has ever won an NBA title by themselves. No matter what people think, Michael Jordan had a ton of help in Scottie Pippin, Horace Grant (first three titles), Dennis Rodman. The same with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. They all had talent that surrounded them.

The difference is, it’s hard to imagine any of them leaving their team in their prime to join forces with the squad that had just punished them in the playoffs.

Don’t know if it started with Lebron James going to Miami, but the days of one player wanting to lead his team to an NBA championship are done. What made Durant’s decision surprising is it goes against every preconceived notion we had about what it ‘used’ to mean to be a superstar in the NBA.

Today’s players seemingly are no longer interested in being the alpha male who wants to carry their team by their sheer will and talent. This generation wants to be part of a collective and carry less of the burden on their shoulders.

I can’t say if that’s good or bad, but it feels like it’s here to stay for a while.

  1. Bubble burst: One of the greatest attributes of the Thunder organization and fans is that they protect their players. Whether it’s from the media or outside criticism, they have done a good job of shielding their stars (aka Durant and Russell Westbrook). That also may have been their biggest weakness.

When Durant said in The Players Tribune “I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone…,” I got the feeling he was referring not just to the Thunder but also the fans. In his eight years in Oklahoma City, Durant never had to face the firing squad or was ever called out in a major way. No matter what he did or how bad he played, the fans gave him unconditional support and never turned on him. The one time he got a negative headline, the entire state of Oklahoma came to his defense.

While with the Thunder he was in a protective bubble and he knew it would always be that way. When Oklahoma City lost to Golden State in the postseason by losing three straight games in which Durant played below par, he should have been raked him over the coals. Any other super star would have been. Instead, excuses were made for him, seemingly not wanting to hurt his feelings so he would come back to them.

Great players don’t get better that way. They have to face the firestorm of failure and everything that goes with it. That’s how they get tougher, develop thick skin and find out what they are made of. For eight years, Oklahoma City kept that from happening.

So when Durant says he needs to move out of his comfort zone, I took it as getting outside the bubble the Thunder had created for him.

B: You also have to question the relationship between Durant and Westbrook. While both publicly said they were like brothers, reports have surfaced that Durant didn’t think he could evolve in the same offense as Westbrook.

If Durant indeed is feeling that way, he is not taking into account his own flaws that cost the Thunder in the series vs. The Warriors.

  1. New direction for Thunder: Durant’s departure almost guarantees that Oklahoma City has to trade Russell Westbrook. The All-star guard has given no hints or public assertions that he wants to be with the franchise long term. With his contract up at the end of next season, they can’t afford to let him walk away for nothing as well.

However, it’s almost impossible to trade a player of Westbrook’s stature and get fair value. Teams such as the L.A. Lakers and New York Knicks won’t empty their roster because they assume they can sign Westbrook when he is a free agent. When the Thunder traded James Harden in the same situation, they found a willing partner. That may not be as easy this time around.

Westbrook could decide to stay and be the one to carry to franchise. Presti has surrounded him with a strong cast that easily gets to to the postseason where the Thunder can make noise. (A matchup with Golden State in 2017 playoffs would be epic ).

But can the Thunder take the chance that Westbrook wants to stay?

If not,  Thunder are set to enter a new trajectory that doesn’t include competing for an NBA title every year. In other words, they are in a rebuilding phase, which had general manager Sam Presti reflecting on the past eight years.

“What we have been able to experience in Oklahoma City over the last several years is truly something remarkable,” Presti said. “As I said before, I don’t want to keep talking about the postseason accomplishments and the different things that have taken place, but it’s a really special thing to be a part of a team that walks into the season every year with a chance to win the title and with a group of guys that are passionate, that are hard-working, high-character, not perfect, you know, but putting ourselves in a position to have an enjoyable experience watching the team year in and year out. So we have to be grateful for that.”

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Durant stuns Thunder, chooses rival Warriors as new home

 

By Michael Kinney

Kevin Durant waited until the 4th of July to announce his decision on where he would be playing basketball in the future. The free agent forward certainly chose the appropriate holiday to lite up the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise and fan base.

Via The Players Tribune, Durant made it known he would be taking his talents to the Golden State Warriors. He is set to sign a 2-year $54 million deal to play for the team that won an NBA record 73 regular season games.

In his post on the Players Tribune, Durant explained his decision, somewhat.

“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”

The announcement came after four days of seven meetings meetings with six different teams that took place in Oklahoma City and The Hamptons, New York. The first two teams he met with were the Thunder and Warriors and they seem to be who his decision came down between.

Oklahoma City had two different pitch meetings with Durant, but obviously they were unable to convince him to stay put and lead the franchise he had been with for nine years.

“Kevin made an indelible mark on the Thunder organization and the state of Oklahoma as a founding father of this franchise,” General Manager Sam Presti aid. “We can’t adequately articulate what he meant to the foundation of this franchise and our success. While clearly disappointing that he has chosen to move on, the core values that he helped establish only lead to us thanking him for the many tangible and intangible ways that he helped our program.”

Durant’s announcement came as a surprise to most Thunder fans, who took to social media to voice their displeasure. That included reviving a 2010 twitter post from Durant in which he said “Now everybody wanna play for the heat and Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these people!”

All along, Durant maintained that his decision would be all about basketball and being comfortable with those around him. It’s hard to make an argument that his choice had anything to do with basketball when he joins the team he and the Thunder led 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals before losing three straight games.

That has led some to believe Durant was no longer comfortable playing with Russell Westbrook, even though the two stars had maintained they were tight friends.

With Westbrook being a free agent after next season, he may have told Durant he isn’t planning on being around when his contract is up.

No one knows for sure if the burden of shouldering the franchises hopes had just became to much for him.

Durant will now team with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and coach Steve Kerr to possibly form one of the greatest offensive machines in NBA history. Some have all but guaranteed Golden State will win the NBA title in 2017.

While Durant may finally get the NBA title ring he has thirsted after for so long, it will come with a price. Instead of being the player who leads a franchise to a championship, he will be seen as joining a team who had a chance of winning it without him. That not only does nothing to help his legacy as being one of the all time greats, but it hurts it in many fans eyes.

What Thunder fans do know is that after eight years of investing in Durant and calling him one of their own, he left them at the alter wondering what went wrong.

“I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me,” Durant said in the Players Tribune. “It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man. There are no words to express what the organization and the community mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever. The memories and friendships are something that go far beyond the game. Those invaluable relationships are what made this deliberation so challenging.

“It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career.”

Go to Eyeamtruth.com

Decision day finally at hand for Durant

Billboards and murals such as this have appeared throughout Oklahoma City, seemingly as a message to Kevin Durant and the fan base. (Photo by Michael Kinney)

 

By Michael Kinney

Presumably by the time the sun sets on the fourth of July, Oklahoma City Thunder fans will have their answer. After sweating it out for more than a year, they will know whether Kevin Durant will be staying in Oklahoma or moving on to other pastures.

According to a reports, Durant is expected to announce his decision sometime Monday. That could be true or just one giant tease to increase the stress level on the Thunder organization and its fan base as they try and hold onto this year’s biggest free agent and the most hyped since LeBron James.

After meeting with six different teams over the holiday weekend, it seems to have come down to the Thunder, the Golden State Warriors and possibly the Boston Celtics.

In truth, Durant wouldn’t be wrong with choosing any of the three if the decision truly was all about basketball, which is what he stated it would be more than a week ago.

Both the Celtics and Warriors have a young team with talented players. The addition of Al Horford gives Boston at least one other big name that could team with Durant. The Warriors, as everyone knows, already has three on the roster. That includes two-times MVP Steph Curry.

If either one snagged Durant, they would be title contender for several years.

But the same can be said for the Thunder. However, there is one major clause in that statement. And it centers around the future of his teammate for the past eight years, Russell Westbrook. Since no one outside Westbrook’s inner circle knows what is going to happen when he becomes a free agent after next season, the future of Oklahoma City is not as solid as the other two squads appear to be.

At this time next year, the Thunder could still have both Durant and Westbrook on the roster, one or the other or neither. That is a slightly shakey future.

But you have to assume Durant and Westbrook have had talks. As close as they say they are, it’s hard to imagine either would pull a LeBron James and not let their close friends on the team know their future plans so they could act accordingly, if they have already been made.

But regardless of what discussions Durant and Westbrook have had, Durant’s decision has to be all about him and his legacy. Where can he win titles and where can he lift his name to the upper echelon of the greatest players of all time.

I contend Durant can win wherever he goes. But when it comes to building on his legacy, it’s hard to beat bringing a first title to the franchise that drafted you. Building it from the ground up makes a much better story than chasing it from team to team. That, I’m sure, is the message Thunder General Manger Sam Presti has tried to convey to Durant in their meetings and with the billboards that have magically appeared around Oklahoma City that read “Taking on Tomorrow. Today.”

But it remains to be seen if that will be enough to keep Durant home.

Go to Eyeamtruth.com

Teams prepare to make best pitch to prize free agent

By Michel Kinney

During the Oklahoma City Thunder exit interview, coach Billy Donovan was asked a specific question on trying to keep Kevin Durant with the organization. The former college coach was asked about having to recruit Durant.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be recruiting him,” Donovan said at the time. “I don’t look at it as recruiting. For me, it’s been over 100 games with Kevin. Obviously, for him, this decision will be his decision. I’m there in any way he needs. But I think when you’ve been with somebody for basically an entire year – and it was a year ago at this point in time when he was coming off his foot injury that we had a chance to spend a lot of time. So Kevin will go through this process, and I’m going to respect his wishes of taking his time and evaluating it and making the right decision for himself.”

However, that is not entirely true. Donovan will most likely be in the room with Durant when he meets with the Thunder today (Thursday) to kick off his free agency tour. That means, Donovan, General Manager Sam Presti and the rest of the brass will be making the strongest pitch possible to keep him from bolting town.

The Thunder will be the first of reportedly six teams who will have an audience with Durant over the next two to three days. He is schedule to meet with the Thunder in Oklahoma City before flying to New York where he sit with the Warriors, Clippers on Friday, Spurs and Celtics on Saturday and Miami Sunday.

Each of the teams will present a glimpse of what the future would look like if Durant is wearing their jersey for next few years.

“I think number one is not to make it too overly complex,” Presti said earlier in June. “We’ve had a relationship with Kevin in Oklahoma City for eight years, nine with this particular franchise, and we talk to him all the time. I think when those conversations occur, it’s really just a continuation of a dialogue that’s been going on for eight or nine years. It’s a chance to reflect and recognize that relationship and continue the conversations that we’ve had on going.”

When the Thunder do make their pitch, money seems to be the one factor that is not an issue. If he signed long term with Thunder this season the max contract could be 5-years, for $153 million. If he signs for a year then does a long term next season, it would balloon up to $230 million with the new salary cap.

Under that same scenario, the other teams can offer 4 year deals for $114 (this season) or $177 (next season).

However, when Durant was in Austin last week, he said his decision will come down to basketball reasons. Only he and his inner circle know exactly what that means.

Because of that, there is no guarantee that Durant will be returning to the Thunder. Teams such as the Warriors, Spurs and Celtics have the ability to surround him with talent and pay him the money he is seeking.

In reality, Oklahoma City began making their pitch to Durant on draft night when Presti traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Iiyasova and the rights to No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis. There has also been talk that he is making a move to sign free agent Al Horford from Atlanta.

What Oklahoma City can offer that no other franchise can match is a legacy that is all his own. There he is the foundation the franchise has been built on. He will be the first player to get his jersey retired or have a statue built of him. All future members of the Thunder would be compared to him.

No matter wherever else he goes, that is not happening.

I believe the Warriors are the Thunder’s biggest threat to stealing Durant. If that is so, at the end of the day he has to ask himself one question. Would he rather be another part of what would be an inevitable NBA championship or the lead horse in trying to bring Oklahoma City it’s first ring? When it’s all said and done, that is the pitch the Thunder have to make.

“Look, Kevin is a highly, highly intelligent person,” Presti said. “He’s a mature person. He’s a rational person, and he’s going to work through the decision in a way that will help him do what he feels is best for him. We’ll react accordingly once we have that information, and we’ll try to be as prepared as possible.”

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Durant to lead Team USA into Rio

 

By Michael Kinney

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant is a man of his word. Even as other high profile NBA players dropped their names for consideration to play in the Rio Summer Olympics, Durant said over and over that he would be making the trip.

It became official Monday morning when USA Basketball released the names of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team and Durant was right at the top of the 12-player list.

It’s an honor to be a part of this. #UNITE #USABMNT,” Durant posted to a social media site.

This will be Durant’s second trip to the Olympic games. In 2012 he was the team’s leading scorer at 19.5 ppg as he helped the squad claim the Gold Medal.

The rest of the roster has 10 first timers to the Olympic experiences. They includes Harrison Barnes, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson.

“It is an honor to represent my country in the Olympics,” Jordan said. “I am excited to begin the process of bringing home a gold medal to the United States.”

Only Durant and Carmelo Anthony have played in the Olympics before.

Olympic competition in Rio de janeiro, Brazil begins Aug. 5 and runs through the 21st.

“I think I can speak for the entire coaching staff and say we’re extremely excited about the team we will field for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” said Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the USA Men’s National Team. “I love our depth, which is another indication of the depth of talent our national team program is blessed with. We’ve got a great mix of talent, scorers, past gold medal winners and outstanding youth.”

Durant will prepare for the Olympics as he goes through a free agency period where he is the most sought after player on the market. According to reports, once free agency begins July 1, he will have meetings with the Thunder, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics and the L.A. Clippers.

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com

Thunder say goodbye to Ibaka with draft night trade

Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti talks to the media at the end of the 2016 NBA Draft Thursday.

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA – Hours before the NBA draft tipped off Thursday night, rumors of a major shakeup with the Oklahoma City Thunder began to float around. The word was that the Thunder were in the shopping mood and looking to trade veteran forward Serge Ibaka.

But as the draft got closer, that rumor began to fade and it seemed the Thunder were going to be left with the prospect of having a pretty boring draft night. With no picks in either the first or second round, it quickly became evident Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti might be watching from the sideline.

However, Presti has proven he’s not a bench warmer when it comes to building teams. He pulled the trigger on a trade that shipped Ibaka to the Orlando Magic in what could be considered a mini-blockbuster for a team that was one win away from an appearance in the NBA Finals.

Yet, they had to lose Ibaka to make it happen.

(Serge) has been absolutely integral to helping us create a foundation of sustainable success for the Thunder,” Presti said. “He’s been a great citizen of Oklahoma City, and we’re confident that he’s going to continue his career trajectory with the Magic in Orlando.”

In return for the 26-year old Ibaka, the Thunder received guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan Llyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis, who was taken with the No. 11 of the first round.

I think there is a common thread with the three players that we brought back in this particular trade,” Presti said. “These are really serious basketball players. Really high-character people, and guys that I think understand how to contribute to winning and understanding.”

With the addition of Oladipo to the lineup with Russell Westbrook, the Thunder now have one of the most athletic backcourts in the league. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound guard provides defensive pressure and a constant offensive threat. He averaged 16 points, 3.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds this past season.

I think the number one thing with Victor is his make-up. You know, this is a guy that we’ve looked at for a long time,” Presti said. “He is tough-minded, he’s competitive, he’s selfless. He is a guy that we really feel like not only brings things on the floor for us, but I think he’s going to be a real add to our environment, our culture on an everyday basis.”

Oladipo’s presence also could mean the end of Dion Waiters time in Oklahoma City. Waiters is a free agent and was seeking a long term contract, possibly at a price that was too big for what the Thunder were willing to pay.

You know, that’s an interesting question, because we really like the fact that we could potentially have several players on our team now that can attack the paint, that can guard different positions,” Presti said. “They all play with force. It’s intriguing. Like we have to sit down and sort through that, but I think it’s pretty rare that you have all of these different players that can play pick-and-roll, that can get into the lane, that have good vision. So that remains to be seen. But, obviously, Victor gives us coverages there. At the same time Dion has shown to be a really good fit the same way. So I’m interested to see that, to be honest with you.”
Sabonis is a 20-year old native of Portland and the son of former Trailblazer Arvydas Sabonis.

The younger Sabonis, 20, played at Gonzaga where he averaged almost 18 points, 12 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the field.

When Sabonis was interviewed after being drafted, it was unclear if he knew he had been traded to Oklahoma City since he was still swearing a Magic hat.

Sabonis was asked what he feels about playing next to Adams.

“It’s awesome,” Sabonis said. “He’s a great player, very talented. They are a very good team. I’m just excited to go there. Can’t wait to go there.”

In the closing minutes of the draft night, Presti pulled off another move that gave the Thunder the rights to 6-foot-7 forward Daniel Hamilton. In two seasons at UConn he averaged just over 11 points and eight rebounds.

But the entire night was about Oklahoma City moving one from one of its building blocks in Ibaka.

In his final season in Oklahoma City, he averaged 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He had been with the franchise since he was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 2008 with the 24th overall pick.

With the emergence of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter throughout the season, Ibaka saw the team’s dependence on him decrease. That was especially evident in the postseason.

Ibaka was also heading into the final year of his 4-year contract where he would be making $12.35 million.

In his time with Oklahoma City, Ibaka made the ll-Defensive First Team three times and led the NBA in blocks twice. After beginning his career in Oklahoma City as a defensive demon, he began the transformation of becoming a stretch four. During his exit interview he announced he was making the full conversion to a forward who just shoots 3-pointers and that may have signaled the end to his tenure with the Thunder.

“Time flies. 7 years in Oklahoma City, a place where I grew up, became the player I am today, competed with a great team and made great friends,” Ibaka posted on social  media. “A place I can call home. Thank you state of Oklahoma and your wonderful people. Thank you @okcthunder, staff, employees, teammates and fans. You will be in my heart forever.”

Ibaka, Westbrook and Kevin Durant had matured from teenagers into grown men together in Oklahoma City. Along with Nick Collison, they were all that was left from the team that went to the 2012 NBA Finals.

But once again Presti showed he’s not afraid to make moves to keep his roster flush with young talent. As the Durant free agent sweepstakes continues to play itself out, that may be the most important thing accomplished on draft night.

The thing we’re always focused on is how we make the organization better,” Presti said. “How we look to aggressively pursue progress, pursue improvement, and we thought this was an opportunity to do that. As I said before, the combination of players that we’re getting back, we feel really fit our team. And, and we always have to do what is best for our team.”

Draft Notes: For Oklahoma fans, they didn’t have to wait long to see Buddy Hield taken. The National Player of the Year was taken sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Hield sported a white and maroon jacket and flashed little buddy buckets signs as he climbed the stage to shake the hand of the commissioner.

“I am just happy, my family is happy considering where we came from,” Hield said during the telecast. “Just glad to be here. We couldn’t have done it without God. I am just thankful God has blessed me in this moment.”

The last Oklahoma player to be taken in the first round was Blake Griffin with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.

The Sooners’ Isaiah Cousins was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 59th pick in the second round. This is the first time in the Sacramento-era the Kings have selected a player from the University of Oklahoma.

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