By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
Aside from the charcoal-scented barbeque in the air July Fourth, fireworks rained out across the country. These weren’t just actual fireworks however, as one of the NBA’s generational talents left the Oklahoma City Thunder after nine years with a huge bang that will cause ripple effects throughout the league.
Kevin Durant, seven-time all-star and 2014 league MVP, announced on The Players’ Tribune website that he was leaving the Thunder and joining the rival Golden State Warriors.
It’s easy to see why Durant would want to join the Warriors. Coming off two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, including a victory in 2015, any player would want to be a part of a winning franchise that features back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry and reigning Coach of the Year Steve Kerr at the helm.
However, there are some who see this as a defection. Durant is joining the enemy. The Warriors rallied to beat the Thunder in the recent Western Conference Finals, despite being down 3-1 in the series. Most would argue the noble thing to do would be for Durant to stay with the Thunder and keep grinding until he wins a title there, rather than joining an already elite franchise and riding the coattails of Curry and all-stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Whether you think it’s ring chasing or a valid choice by one of the best players in basketball, there’s no doubt Durant’s decision has implications that are concerning for the league. If the Thunder, a team with effective management, a talented roster and the ability to offer the money required, couldn’t retain their star player, then what chance does any small market team have of keeping talent?
Parity has always been more of a goal than a reality in the NBA. The league is superstar-driven, and with only a handful of people in the world with the physical attributes, skill-set, and mentality to be an elite player, it’s inevitable that there are always going to be a few dominant teams with the rest of the league playing catch-up.
But the Thunder was a dominant team. Durant combined with all-pro guard Russell Westbrook to create one of the most dynamic pairs of shot creators the league has ever seen, and for the past several years—when they were healthy—the team was in championship contention every season. It’s one thing to watch Lebron James leave a Cleveland situation lacking in talent back in 2010, but it’s another thing entirely to watch Durant bail on a promising team full of talent.
I don’t blame Durant. I applaud players having say in where they play. But I do think the league needs to look at this when they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement next year and try to give small market teams a fighting chance at retaining talent.
Contract extensions are currently valued lower than new deals, de-incentivizing star players from signing extensions before their contracts are up.
If the league changed that rule alone, players who want to leave wouldn’t be able to hide behind the notion that it’s not in their best financial interest to re-sign early on. If Durant had denied a full extension last November, the Thunder at least would have known ahead of time and been able to trade him, rather than losing him for nothing.
In the meantime, Durant joining an already potent Warriors team spells trouble for the league. Barring injury, his addition to a roster that broke the record for regular season victories last year makes Golden State arguably the most formidable team in league history. They’ve added one of the best players of his generation. Scary.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.