By Calvin Alexander
So KD, Kevin, The Slim Reaper, #35, the face, heart and soul of the OKC Thunder, has made his decision. He’s gone. Gone to the high kicking Oakland Warriors (I was born in the Golden State and refuse to let the Warriors disguise the city they play in). Gone to the first team to win 73 regular season games … and also the first team to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. KD’s departure dramatically tilts the Western Conference toward the Warriors, making them a “super” team while shaking the Thunder’s very foundation.
I have a lot of good memories of the Thunder winning. KD hitting buzzer beaters against the Mavericks and the Magic. The Thunder beating the Spurs to make it to The Finals in 2012 and this past season watching Russ and KD beat the Spurs and win three games against the 73 win Warriors. He also did so much for the community and was a great ambassador for OKC. It’s hard to think of him as a villain. But why would a player with the talents to go down as an all-time great to the Warriors, the team that he just lost to by the slimmest of margins? A team that acted with no class when they were threatened, literally resorting to repeated low blows out of frustration? And what the heck was Jerry West’s motivation to be part of the Warriors PR team? I am sure he told KD he wishes he would have won more titles but I doubt he told KD he regrets not leaving the Lakers to join the Celtics. I also wonder if he told him about Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt Chamberlain was a superbly talented player, perhaps the most dominant ever, but isn’t generally considered on the Mt. Rushmore of NBA greats like Russell, Jordan, Magic or Bird, and isn’t the logo of the NBA as Mr. West is. Wilt had six dominant years with his first team, taking them to the playoffs and to the NBA Finals his final year before being traded. He then had several great years in Philly, winning one NBA Championship as the dominant player on that team and ending his career with the Lakers playing alongside Jerry West and winning a 2nd NBA title there. I doubt West told KD that Wilt’s legacy suffers because he moved from team to team as compared to the other greats (even though it was by trade, not choice). Hard to believe that Wilt wouldn’t have won a championship, or championships, with his original team had he stayed there his entire career, especially since he had taken them to the NBA Finals the year before he was traded. Oh, who was Wilt’s original team, the one that traded him away? The Warriors.
Where is the competitive fire we thought he had to build his own legacy? Was he running out of time at age 27? Keep in mind that Michael Jordan is the recognized as the greatest player ever by many and certainly the greatest since Bill Russell by most. Jordan won 6 titles even with a weaker supporting cast than the Thunder has and even though he took off a couple years in the middle of his career to play baseball. And he didn’t win his first title until age 28.
Now the Thunder have to make a decision, either trade Russ and build up the franchise again, or keep Westbrook and hope that he doesn’t choose to leave like KD did. Sam Presti has guided the franchise ably for a decade. He has made incredibly smart decisions after the Portland Trailblazers made the mistake of drafting Greg Oden and KD fell to the Thunder at #2. Drafting Russ and Ibaka in the same draft, then James Harden. When financial pressures forced a move, Harden was traded for a draft pick used to select Steven Adams. Kanter was acquired via trade and Ibaka moved to acquire Oladipo. The draft picks that Presti has made and the trade decisions have paid off big time. The Thunder have made the Western Conference Finals four out of the past six years and the two years they did not make it to the Western Conference Finals were the two years that Russ and KD were injured. I trust Sam Presti going forward.
I am very thankful for the time that KD played in OKC and the things that he did to give back to the state. Donating $1 million dollars to the Moore Tornado Relief fund and volunteering around the state is a great way to give back and it’s something that will stick with a lot of Oklahomans for a while and myself.
Thank you for being such a great role model and person while you were here, I wish you had stayed at least one more year, or not taken the path of least resistance. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a decade from now you don’t look back and wish you would have stayed as well. You may reflect that championships are sweeter when they come as a result of something you built and because you joined a team that had already won an NBA Championship without you.
NOW Russ, this is your team, your chance to prove to everyone just how good you are. As a Thunder fan, I know you’re unstoppable, you can win the MVP next year, take this team back to the playoffs and let’s see what happens. But you need to make it clear you are committed and our cornerstone.
And Mr. Presti, keep doing your thing man. We hit a road block today and have to choose a new path that may take us a little longer but I trust you, do what you think is best.
Lastly, I still give (just a little) hope to this theory, until KD officially signs with The Warriors: There is a way Kevin Durant could hurt the Warriors and help the Thunder – ‘The Herd’