Welcome to the big leagues, Oklahoma City.
All those Thunder games were a lot of good, clean fun and certainly put Oklahoma on the American professional sports map. Your passionate, college-town enthusiasm (fans in other cities call it naiveté) makes the NBA in OKC a blast.
But this — Kevin Durant quitting you and fleeing to the Golden State Warriors — this is what it means to be an NBA city.
This is what it’s like to have your heart ripped out, to watch your foundation exploded like cheap, six-for-a-dollar July 4 fireworks, to see your favorite player turn his back on everything a franchise did for him and jump on the bandwagon of a rival ballclub.
Durant announced on The Players Tribune website Monday morning that he needed to experience “growth as a player” and he needed to move “out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”
That, Durant surmised, is the Golden State Warriors.
Let’s all take a moment and step back and appreciate the many, many things Kevin Durant did for Oklahoma City.
OK, that’s long enough. OKC is the big leagues now, you know. No time for sentimentality.
The fact is, Kevin Durant is right. He needed to get out of Oklahoma City.
His game had hit its ceiling in OKC. He had peaked. He was not getting better.
Simple as that.
The Kevin Durant that was so awful down the stretch of OKC’s Game 6 meltdown against his future team, the Kevin Durant that was so pedestrian as the Thunder became just the 10th team out of 230 in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead, this was the same Kevin Durant that won the league’s MVP award three seasons ago.
Durant averaged 32 points per game that magical 2013-14 season. The year before, 2012-13, he joined the elite “50-40-90” club, shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Durant’s game was on an upward trajectory. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
He missed all but 27 games of the 2014-15 season because of that darn broken foot, then this season — fully healed, fully rested, remember — averaged 28.2 points and shot neither 40 percent from distance (.387, actually) or 90 percent from the free throw line (.898, close).
Don’t misunderstand. Durant is still an elite basketball talent.
But nine years into a Hall of Fame NBA career, he was no longer improving. And he was no closer to a championship.
And, really, if he had come so-close-yet-so-far to a championship so many times already in his career, was he really going to win a title in OKC?
A trip to the Finals in 2012 produced four straight losses to the Heat. OKC’s other near-misses halted in the Western Conference Finals.
Durant is 27 and certainly not getting any younger. Remember how old Kobe Bryant looked this season? After this upcoming season, Durant will be halfway to Bryant’s 20 seasons.
This year’s campaign was, realistically, a boom or bust for KD: Get a 3-1 lead on the Warriors with a clear shot at LeBron James and the Cavs? Boom. Blow that lead and waste a golden opportunity for NBA immortality? Bust.
That’s the real question now: will Durant ever win an NBA title?
Durant’s image is that of a clutch player, but a real clutch player wouldn’t have bottomed out against the Warriors with a championship on the line. Maybe with clutch players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green around him, he can finally get that championship.
The Warriors now have what looks like an obscene wealth of talent. But Durant agreed to sign a 2-year contract. If Curry bangs his knee again, or if Durant’s Jones fracture resurfaces, or if LeBron and Co. are just now starting to hit their stride, will Golden State win a title in KD’s two years in Oakland?
And if not, will Kevin Durant flee for a spot with the next NBA frontrunner so he can “encourage my evolution as a man?”