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#KDisOKC: I Debate Readers on Whether Durant Leaves the Thunder

The NBA Playoffs started Saturday, and promise to be as exciting as ever. But as an Oklahoma native and huge OKC Thunder fan, I can’t help but be disappointed, because their season is over in April this year.

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season may have ended Wednesday night, but the questions are just beginning. Uncertainty reigns as the team tries to recover from missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. Is this the end of an era? Has the window closed on a team that many believed just a few years ago could rule the decade? And yet amidst all the doubts, Oklahoma City fans continued to make us believe, in the early hours of Thursday morning, that maybe the Thunder is something more than just another NBA team.

Before I put aside my bias, let me tell you a story about the coolest sports fan experience I’ve ever been in. Now I’ve been to Army-Navy, Duke-North Carolina, and the Final Four this year. And yet the 2012 OKC Thunder playoff run tops them all. You’re talking about an entire state that had never had a professional team in any sport, that now had a team (full of young extremely likable characters) who found themselves taking on Lebron James for the championship of the world? The entire state was supporting this team, and I know that is a cliche but seriously the team had penetrated the population of non-sports fans. I really doubt that the best player on any other NBA team (except for Lebron) is as known and as loved by people who could care less about sports than Kevin Durant.

The day of game one, all of the buildings had Thunder banners pasted across them, and every businessman was wearing a Thunder t-shirt over his dress shirt. The town was ELECTRIC all day, and there was a camaraderie amongst all Oklahomans that’s very hard to explain.

I’ll give you an example. The week before the finals started, t-shirt stands popped up all across Tulsa (106 miles from OKC). There were three stands on my way to school (a 10 minute drive, 8 if I’m running late), and I kid you not every day I would see the apparel being hung on my way to school, hundreds of items, and by the time I drove home from school each day almost all of the items were gone.

I just find it hard to believe that there’s another NBA team like that.

Here’s a video that hardly does justice to the pandaemonium and jubilee that took over the state that week.


However, 2012 is in the rearview mirror, and it’s amazing how quickly things change and people forget. Only 4 players remain from that Finals team (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Collison) and the other 11 have slowly been traded, left, or cut. Yet all of the public statements point to the organization being a family. This is a very tense time for Thunder fans, with the media telling us that Scott Brooks is on the chopping block and that KD may leave in the 2016 free agency.

If Kevin Durant left the OKC Thunder, it would be in the top 5 most traumatic moments in the history of the state, behind only the race riot of 1921, the OKC bombings, and the Moore tornadoes. And not to trivialize any of those events, but I imagine riots, bombings and tornadoes all happening in the wake of the news…. because the world will probably be ending.

I got a few emails this week regarding KD’s free agency, so let’s debate!

I’m a Wizards fan who grew up in D.C., so KD is practically my cousin. You’ve been drinking too much of the Thunder PR kool-aid if you think your team is anything other than just another NBA team. This is a business, and these guys are coworkers. They’re paid to get along. You think Russell Westbrook actually likes taking a backseat to anyone? And you think Durant enjoys playing in a city whose newspaper publishes a “Mr. Unreliable” headline about him during the playoffs? KD’s only “family” lives in D.C., and includes the “real MVP.” He’s coming home in 2016.

John, Washington D.C.

Well Johnny boy, I’m glad you mentioned “The Speech,” as we call in back in Oklahoma. Because right before KD broke down talking about his momma, he had equally endearing things to say about Russ, a man who the media tells us is KD’s rival because…there’s no way he’s happy averaging 25 points per game and making deep playoff runs anymore.

“I love you man. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you.”

Huh, that’s weird. That doesn’t fit the narrative?

He was probably really jealous of Russell going off in the All-Star game and stealing the spotlight, winning All-Star MVP award, right?

Crap. Well I know when he’s sitting up in his box in his mechanical wheelchair that he is a little mad when he sees his rival Russ go off this season for triple doubles and 50+ point games, right?

Crap.

And if you think that KD has a very politically correct twitter account, and doesn’t tell people exactly what he thinks, then you clearly haven’t seen him tweet. He will go off on responders and reply very honestly to some questions. Warning: explicit language, which is why I won’t post any of them here.

And if you think that this is all coming from one side, listen to this Dan Patrick Show interview, in which Russell says,

“Kevin and I got closer and closer regardless of whatever stories were made up about us…like brothers.”

Dan Patrick asks “is there any part of you that wants to do what James Harden did and have your own team?”

Russ: “Not at all man, I love winning. Kevin is one of the best players in the world and I love the position I’m in now…You can have your own team and win some games and go home in the summer but I’d rather be in a position to win a championship every year.”

DP, later: “Look at you, you’ve got his back…”

Russ: “Always, always.”

So no, John, I don’t think KD and Russ resent each other or hate each other. Is it ludicrous for us to just believe what both of them have told us and each other about a thousand times? That they’re close like brothers?

I”m glad you mentioned the “Mr. Unreliable,” headline as well.

Mr._Unreliable___Kevin_Durant__OKC_Respond_To_Headline

Even though the headline was just “click-bait” and the actual article wasn’t that harsh, this offense is truly indefensible. I don’t know how this got through editors and was published, and the apology didn’t seem like enough. In contrast with what is already the most biased, homer media of any NBA team, it stood out. The dude probably needed armed security around his home that night, that’s all I’m saying.

As for the family comment, I don’t see KD as a homer in the same way as Lebron. Just watch the Lebron movie…that dude wants to hug his momma after every game. And KD has said, “Everybody knows that I represent where I come from that no matter where I play at, no matter what arena. But I’m just focused on playing with Oklahoma City. It feels like home now,” in what was the most convincing article yet about him staying.

Even though my Wiz are in the playoffs, and even with the year KD just went through, I don’t think right now that KD is jumping ship for DC next summer. The Randy Wittman clogged-toilet offense is not conducive to winning basketball games, the roster doesn’t scream champ supporting cast (Wall and Beal notwithstanding, we ride with them), and the allure of being the hometown hero in a city slightly more *cough* interesting than OKC is not going to be enough to make him jump into a bad basketball situation. We have a LOT to change if we’re gonna try to lure him away.

Scott Brooks may have developed the roster, but he seems tactically useless, and he’s detracting more than he’s giving right now. The offense is predictable, a terrible flaw in a brutal West playoff bracket. Both KD and Russ both came back terrifyingly early from serious injuries, which seems to an outsider like they’re not looking out for the players. Even ignoring the Harden trade, the Thunder front office has built a very strange roster (Kanter is ok but his defense could be a problem, and whoever traded for Waiters should be fired immediately), and I’m not sure it’s enough to survive the West. 

The Thunder have two perennial MVP candidates and a quality rim protector. That should be more than enough to build around. What is OKC going to do to try and keep KD from getting frustrated and looking for his ring elsewhere (if not DC, there’s always South Beach…), and why haven’t they done it already?
-Tip, Annapolis

Thanks for the question, Tip, I’ll take this one paragraph at a time.

1st: No love for the Polish Hammer?

hi-res-c72e05d105282c998431fff4a64f2f54_crop_exact

Or for the elder statesman Paul Pierce? I couldn’t agree more about the Wizard’s setup. Is John Wall better than Russell Westbrook? No. Bradley Beal is definitely better than Waiters, but also took close to 16 shots per game last year. Paul Pierce is still The Truth, but the Wiz’s bench is no match for the Thunder’s in anything other than hair-styles.

The Wizards big men have a combined age of like 736, and Kris Humphries used to be married to a Kardashian. I rest my case.

2nd: Is Scott Brooks a worse coach than Randy Wittman? You wanna talk about a predictable offense, how about Wall standing at half court dribbling for 20 seconds before a high screen comes out and Wall tries to make something happen. That happens at least 25 times a game.

I grant to you that OKC’s team doctor must be Dr. Mantis Toboggan. Injuries have cut short three possible championship runs. But that’s not all on the doctors, as the players were no doubt begging to return, so I don’t know if you can make the case for “not caring about the players.”

The front office is where we disagree heavily. Sam Presti is the 2nd most ingenious GM in the association (behind RC Buford of the Spurs). We turned Reggie Jackson (who wanted out), Kendrick “Shaqtin-a-fool” Perkins, and Grant “who?” Jerrett into Enes Kanter (averaging 18 and 11), DJ Augustin, Kyle Singler, Steve “2K” Novak, and Dion Waiters. Waiters may have the most questionable shot selection in the NBA, and doesn’t make said shots, but hey considering the Thunder’s second group includes Nick Collison and Andre Roberson, someone’s gotta fire-em-up there.

I can’t help but feel like the Thunder is going to offer Kanter the contract that James Harden should’ve/would’ve gotten, but that’s another argument for another day. And yes, he’s an AWFUL defender but he was meant to play all of his minutes with Ibaka in the game (and did so until Ibaka got hurt).

This roster is good enough to win the west every year, and hasn’t gotten a chance to show that due to injuries the last three years. I’d dare you to show me even three teams who have better rosters (when healthy) than the Thunder…

3rd: KD is 26, Russ is 26, Ibaka is 25. All are now in the prime years of their careers. What does the Thunder need to do in order to keep KD happy and win a ring? Stay healthy. You throw a lottery pick onto this roster and people can’t begin to imagine how good this team will be next season.

Considering the injury history of all of these guys, that may be a big if. Which is sad. But has this team underachieved? Top two in the conference over the past 3 years, and only stopped by the Lebron buzz-saw and injuries?

I know from your article about the marriage of Kentucky basketball and ESPN that you are apt to thinking that ESPN will drill stories into the ground if its in their best interest.  I think that is exactly what ESPN is doing by incessantly talking about Kevin Durant’s free agency plans.
I’m a Thunder fan, so my judgment might be clouded, but am I crazy to think that Durant would be foolish to sign with a different team in 2016?  The whole ‘Come Home to the Wizards’ narrative seems ludicrous to me; it is fueled only by LeBron’s case and there is no other precedent for a superstar picking his hometown for the sake of it being his hometown.
Assuming Durant cares about winning an NBA Championship more than anything (which he repeatedly says he does), what franchise can give him a chance better than the one that will have Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter (presumably)?  
-Anderson, Tulsa
 Glad we could get an Oklahoma perspective that was different from my own.
Media narratives is something that I feel very strongly about, but don’t have the cahones to write an all-encompassing article on. I’ll summarize it with this: Media outlets struggle to fathom the possibility that perhaps sports teams (who are comprised of players and coaches employed because of, and rewarded by, winning) aren’t playing solely for the pleasure of a television audience.
However, one cannot simply write off the power of media narratives. They actually do carry weight, mostly because players are questioned about these storylines daily. This is especially powerful when reporters use the infamous “talk about” technique, a.k.a. the “I’m going to make a point that will hopefully make me seem smart, and then I want you to repeat it back to me and agree with me so that it will validate my opinions as a spectator.”
The next thing you know the seeds are planted, and the athletes begin thinking. Athletes are not paid to think. And occasionally crazy things can happen, like these storylines coming true.
tracy_mcgrady_orlando_magic_wallpaper_by_lisong24kobe-d56gp56
Now to your argument. There are a few examples throughout history, but none with the magnitude of Lebron. Clyde Drexler forced his way home to the Houston rockets during 1994-95 after 11 seasons in Portland, and even though he was over the hill he won a championship that year. Tracy McGrady wanted to go home after four seasons in Toronto, and had his agent work out a deal that sent him to the Orlando Magic.
But I’ll tell you what’s funny about the “going home” narrative in all three of these cases. It wasn’t about going home. Clyde the glide left a team that got swept first round of the playoffs two years in a row to a team that won a title. T-Mac left a team where he was second banana (to Vince Carter), and missed the playoffs, to a team that was a perennial playoff team (Grant Hill, young Mike Miller, Horace Grant, even a very old Patrick Ewing). Then he left again a few years later for the Houston Rockets because he wanted to win a ring.
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Even Lebron, in a genius PR move crafting the narrative to his own liking (“Coming Home”), really left for other reasons. Chris Bosh is 31 and looks like a dinosaur, and D-Wade is 33 with knees that are at least 60. Did he not have a better chance of winning a title with a young Kyrie, as well as promises for Kevin Love, as well as full GM abilities to get all of his other friends jobs? He left his home to win championships, he returned for no other reason than to win championships.
Which is why the Wizards idea is ludicrous. I’ve already gone over the reasons why they are far less prepared to win championships than OKC. But you ask what franchise can give him a better chance to win a championship than OKC? That’s where it gets tricky.
With the new collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated in the summer of 2016, the same time KD becomes a free agent, experts are predicting the salary cap to be raised over $20 million due to television money. They even think that it could raise another $20 million the following summer, when Russell Westbrook comes up for free agency.
So the honest answer is: anyone. Unless they change the league max salary, every team in the league could add another max-salary guy to their roster with no penalty. This is where Thunder fans should be nervous. Despite the talk that he “would love to get his jersey retired in OKC,” he’s going to seriously consider any team that gives him a better chance to win a title. Same with Russell in 2017.
We honestly could enter an era of super teams, and Lebron and KD could team up or Carmelo and Kobe (hahahaha reality show waiting to happen), the possibilities are quite staggering. This could be bad for the Thunder, with Sam “most prudent spender in the NBA” Presti at the helm.

I don’t think this is going to happen, however, as I bring this column full circle. One reason. The fans.
This video will give you goosebumps, but it’s also a very accurate portrayal of the Oklahoma people, and how they feel about Kevin Durant.
KD, you’re one of us now. There’s no reason to go home, because you already are home.
#KDisOKC

If you’d like to see your question on a future column, email me at mscraig@bsu.edu!
About Matt Craig (64 Articles)
Chirp City Founder & Director of Content. Hey Bill Simmons, if you're reading this, hire me.

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