Flashback to May of 2014. Kevin Durant was named the MVP of the NBA for the first time and the Thunder were playing well in the playoffs. KD was at the top of his game and his brand reached a pinnacle when he gave his speech upon receiving the league’s top award. Nothing could ever go wrong, right?
Not exactly. With each pinnacle comes a downward decline. The Thunder lost in six games to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. The next season was full of missed games due to injury for KD, which resulted in the termination of Scott Brooks as coach after OKC missed the playoffs for the first time in several years. This past season was one in which the Thunder only seemed to put it all together when it counted the most but ended with a surprising three-game losing streak that allowed Golden State to advance to the NBA finals for the second straight year.
KD chose to leave Oklahoma City for what are clearly now greener pastures. Any team that has three All-Stars and adds a former MVP in his prime is going to get better, even if it ends up depleting the bench and going over the salary cap. However, the brand that is KD is going to suffer now and it will likely be a long period of time before the repair process will even begin.
It has been reported that KD blamed his supporting cast – especially two-time All-Star game MVP Russell Westbrook – for the Thunder being unable to win a championship. The numbers point to KD as being as much of and possibly more of a barrier to that. This season, KD’s scoring remained the same when comparing the regular season to the postseason (28.2 points per game in the regular season vs. 28.4 in the post-season) while his rebound (8.2 vs. 7.1), assist (5.0 vs. 3.3) and block (1.18 vs. 1.0) numbers were down in the playoffs. His shooting numbers were significantly lower (50.5 field-goal percentage and 38.6 percent three-point percentage in the regular season vs. 43 percent and 28.2 percent, respectively, in the playoffs). And even though his turnovers were relatively the same (3.5 vs. 3.6), we all remember how often he turned the ball over during clutch times in the playoffs. If nothing else, it is safe to say he didn’t step up his game.
The numbers are important in establishing that KD as a brand was well marketed but not what we thought we were getting. The legendary players stepped it up in the postseason. LeBron James took on the challenge and brought a title to Cleveland against the NBA’s best-ever regular-season team. Michael Jordan won six MVP’s in six trips to the NBA finals. We all know the legends of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. KD, on the other hand, pointed the finger at everyone but himself and bolted to a team that didn’t need him to win titles. Comparing him to Robert Horry or Derek Fisher isn’t fair. Those players were necessary for their respective teams to win titles. Golden State could win with any NBA shooting guard in the starting lineup. They are that good already. They are a few seconds short of being back-to-back NBA champions and that was with KD nowhere near their starting lineup.
It goes without saying that the KD brand has suffered. He apparently has taken advice from all the wrong people (Roc Nation Sports, Nike, friends with selfish agendas) and now finds himself as the most hated player on a team that has increasingly turned itself into the bad boys of the NBA. Imagine Luke Skywalker joining Darth Vader and the evil Galactic Empire. There probably wasn’t a good way for KD to announce he was turning his back on those who had helped build his brand into what it was, but in hindsight it clearly wasn’t the way people wanted to hear about it. At least it wasn’t the way LeBron did it, but the sting from it is still the same.
Will the KD brand rebound? Maybe. But he could win titles for the rest of his career in Golden State and they will be Steph, Klay and Draymond’s titles with KD hitching on to the bandwagon. His chance to be a leader ended when he decided he wanted to opt out of OKC and join the one team that didn’t need him. It is like having adding lobster to a meal of steak, new potatoes and asparagus. It is only going to enhance the meal that was already going to be delicious.
Time will tell if KD will even turn out to be the lobster to Golden State’s steak dinner. Anything short of winning titles, however, and he will be regarded as nothing more than just a waste of money to a collection of talent that was destined to win one title. And maybe then, the KD brand can begin to find its way back into the hearts of those he left behind.