This is something a lot of people are talking about lately, myself included. Not just didn’t Kevin Durant handle his business entirely different from LeBron, but the Thunder in general are handling things entirely different from the new team of destiny, the Heat. I’d write 1,000 words on it, but Shoals sums it all up pretty darn nicely.
What I’m thinking now is what this means for the rest of the league. Yes, we know, this team will be the prohibitive favorite to win rings for years to come, especially with role players lining up to play for sheckles. It might well destroy the competitive balance of the league. But to get more specific, this changes everything for Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Let’s start with the Thunder, if only because enough digital ink was spilled yesterday in praise of Kevin Durant’s modesty-in-extension. As one friend pointed out, while Durant may be totally genuine, we’re not that far away from him being held up, sickeningly so, as a counter-Bron, a model for all that our kids should aspire to even as James tries to bankroll their futures.
But this idea isn’t new. If James has been known to disappear and lacks a murder-setting — one popular criticism — the smaller, less physically-gifted KD lives and dies by the game’s outcome.
What’s more, Sam Presti has built a team from the ground up, through smart draft picks, imaginative combinations, and signings geared toward maximum flexibility. The Thunder aren’t just the wholesome good guys to the Evil Empire of Miami. They are a team built the Right Way, which in this context means using brains, imagination, and acumen. No blunt force, no shortcuts. Landing Durant was lucky, and yes, I’m sure there’s some curse on them because of Sonics-gate.
If the Heat plan to dominate, their most worthy foes for the future just might be a team that represents everything they’re not. And one that leaves the door open for a team to rebuild organically, dynamically.
Shoals couldn’t be more right. As LeBron’s villainy snowballs more, Durant’s sainthood will as well. For better or worse, prepare yourself to have KD lifted on a pedestal. National media will take him and say, “See here? This is the athlete you kids need to be more like. THIS is your role model. Durant is the model athlete.” It’s something neither KD or the Thunder asked for. It was just earned.
And that’ll be a lot of pressure. Durant is genuine. This being humble, loving teammates and just caring about basketball isn’t a show. It’s real. I remember watching LeBron’s interview after the McDonald’s All-American game back in 2003. He just talked about how winning the game was the most important thing.
And it all just seemed so fake. It felt contrived. It felt like he was saying it because he thought we wanted to hear it. I thought it at the time, but it really all makes sense now. We won’t ever that kind of ah-ha! moment with Durant. He’s genuine to the core. He’s not acting this way for PR. It’s just who he is. And I’ll fistfight anyone who thinks otherwise.
Regardless of that, the pressure will certainly build for him. More people will elevate both KD and the Thunder as the good guys to Miami’s bad. If OKC fails, people will be disappointed, and not just Thunder fans. Some have placed hope in the Thunder, because they feel like they’re what’s good about the NBA. What’s happening in Miami is the bad. If there’s ever an NBA Finals between the two, worlds will collide, lightsabers will be drawn and small, furry creatures will throw rocks at walking machines. (I’m not really sure where I was going with that.)
It’ll be a lot to take in. But it’s something we probably need to prepare for. You’re going to see more articles praising the Thunder way and KD’s leadership. Which definitely is not a bad thing. But carrying that beacon for a lot of people can have it’s pressure. It might be tough. But I think these guys are up to it. At least I know the leader is. The force is strong with this one. Or something like that.