Kevin Durant appears to be saying ‘Hold that thought, Golden State. I’ll be right there.’/Photo Credit: thesource.com
By Ron Thomas
Look at the self-transplanted Kevin Durant, and he still almost has the baby face he had when he entered the NBA after his freshman year at the University of Texas. It’s easy to think, “Why would he leave the team he loves, the Oklahoma City Thunder, when he’s only 27? He’s got plenty of time to win many championships.”
But Durant knows the undeniable truth. At 27, he’s quickly running out of time to win even his first NBA title. If I were him, that would have been the main reason I left the Thunder behind on Monday in my haste to become a Golden State Warrior.
Athletes live under a different work lifespan clock than normal human beings like us. When we enter the workforce, we can usually safely assume that we’ve got 40+ years to accomplish our goals and rise to the top of our professions. But a pro athlete’s career runs like a clock with a spring that’s been wound up too tightly. Instead of going “tick … tock … tick … tock” it goes “ticktockticktock” until their career ends far too abruptly no matter how long it lasts.
Time Marches Faster for Youngest Pros
It’s true that Durant is “only” 27, but previous one-and-done college players like him can wear out a lot quicker than the San Antonio Spurs’ “Old Man Riverwalk” Tim Duncan, who played four years at Wake Forest. Duncan was 21 years, 6 months old when he played his first pro game in 1997; at that age, Durant was deep into his third season, had played in 238 NBA games and had racked up 8,500 playing minutes.
Durant no longer was playing a 35-game college schedule against players he often could physically dominate. Instead, he was enduring the NBA’s annual 82-game grind against fellow pros who could outdo him pound-for-pound and muscle-for-muscle, even if a talent mismatch still existed.
Talking about high school players who were eager to move directly from high school into the pros, I once heard former NBA guard Rod Strickland caution them that NBA frontcourt players possess “man strength” that a high schooler can’t possibly comprehend. Even though this isn’t the era of Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason wrestling opponents to the mat – oops, the floor – the sheer physical nature of pro basketball can chop years off a player’s career.
And every NBA player knows he’s just one awkward landing from going from star to tragic figure, which Indiana’s Paul George almost did two years ago after a gruesome fall nearly ruined his right leg.
Stephen Curry’s drive-and-dish skills will leave Kevin Durant as open as a 24-hour store./Photo Credit: Richard Scuteri/Associated Press
The Westbrook Dilemma
So after nine ringless seasons, I think Durant should be in a hurry to win a title, and here’s why he was wise to leave OKC to pursue it.
He had already come oh so close with the Thunder, losing the 2012 Finals to Miami 4-1 and last month blowing the seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead over the Warriors. If not then, when will the Thunder ever win the crown?
Moreover, their future lies in the hands of point guard Russell Westbrook. He arguably ranks among the NBA Top 5 players in the NBA, and he’s so talented and powerful that he can sometimes bend a game to his will.
But, he’s a high-scoring point guard, not a pure playmaker, and at clutch time in playoff games that championship teams must win, his decision-making and ballhandling have been flawed at crucial moments.
Warriors Lift Durant’s Burden
The Warriors’ Stephen Curry also is a high-scoring point guard whose overly fancy ballhandling hurts his team at times. But overall, he’s a more generous, more instinctive passer than Westbrook, which is enhanced by the Warriors’ quick-pass attack that keeps everyone involved.
With Curry sinking his ridiculous 3-pointers, dabbling in the paint and running the offense surrounded by hellacious shooters Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the highly efficient Andre Iguodala, Durant will be living the easy life.
He may get fewer shots, but so many more will be unchallenged shots than with OKC that Durant’s shooting percentage and maybe his scoring average will go up, and the pressure on him should plummet.
Did He Abandon Ship?
Durant has taken some heat for signing with the team that broke his heart in the Western Conference finals, especially from ESPN’s barb-throwing commentator Stephen A. Smith.
“I just view it as him jumping on the bandwagon and I think it’s the weakest move I’ve ever seen by a superstar,” Smith said.
I think the opposite. It was one of the smartest moves a superstar could make. Durant already has won one league MVP award, been 1st team All-NBA team six times, won five consecutive scoring titles, played in seven straight All-Star games and, according to NBA Reference, has been paid about $88 million. He’s even made his much-loved mother a familiar face at courtside to TV viewers.
All that’s left is winning a championship. He just took the best step possible to ensure that it happens before he runs out of time.