Was Signing Kevin Durant an Unfair Advantage? A Conversation Between Stephanie McCarroll & Michael Erler

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This week, Fangirl Sports Network has a guest blogger. Michael Erler, who covers the San Antonio Spurs for SBNation and the Golden State Warriors & NFC West for FanRagSports.com joins Stephanie McCarroll to discuss whether or not Golden State recruiting Kevin Durant was an unfair advantage. The two writers decided to swap e-mails to hash out their discussion.

Steph: So Michael, we have had this discussion as private jabs back and forth — but neither of us have really had the chance to battle out our difference of opinion regarding Kevin Durant going to the Warriors in free agency. So let’s get right into it.

Admittedly, as a long suffering Golden State fan, I was not only happy about the acquisition, but also relieved as a fan. It had been a long time since ownership would be willing to do whatever deemed necessary to make the Warriors a team to compete for championships year after year.

Recruiting and locking up KD seemed unfair to many, but given the fact the rest of the the team is homegrown — how can anyone give Golden State grief for courting a free agent like Kevin Durant? Go ahead, tell me about their spectacular 73 win season. I already know what you’re going to say, so get it over with.

Michael: It’s not about giving the Warriors grief. They didn’t do anything outside of the rules. They absolutely acted within the loopholes of the system. If I were them, I’d have done the exact same thing. They had the cap room and Durant showed interest in them. Of course it made sense to pursue him, especially since the alternative would’ve been to pay that same max salary to Harrison Barnes. The Warriors stars may never admit it publicly, but it could’ve caused major friction to give Barnes that kind of money. And, it is especially true, when Barnes was the fourth or fifth option on offense and not in the same caliber as Curry, Thompson and Green.

I can, however, give KD and the system all kinds of grief.

Steph: At least you do not fault the Warriors for doing the right thing. At the same time, many gave LeBron James massive criticism for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010.

At that time, I felt the same as many NBA fans now feel about KD. However, I do believe LeBron James earned the right to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to play professional basketball. At that time, as a fan, I felt James attempted to take the easier path to championship glory. And, seeing the way things have played out with Kevin Durant, it is undoubtedly the way many NBA fans feel. However, in essence, it is the same scenario.

LeBron James

Photo credit: Keith Allison

Michael: I disagree. That’s a very apples and oranges comparison. What put off most fans about LeBron is the callous manner in which he left. It was his hometown team and he pretty much had the run of the entire organization. The Cavs let his friends come and go wherever they wanted, let him pick the coach and have personnel input, gave him as much power as any star has ever had with any organization. And after they didn’t win, he didn’t even give them so much as a meeting or a warning.

James decided to break up with them on live television instead of at least giving the owner who treated him well notice. And even though it feels like he was joining a “super team” like Durant did, that’s where your analogy breaks apart.

What do you know about the 2009-10 Miami Heat? Can you tell me how they did? Can you name any of their players besides Dwyane Wade? If I told you they had the second pick of their previous draft on their roster, can you say who that was?

Compare that situation to the Warriors. It was a team that won 73 games without him. None of their core guys had to leave. The three stars were in place as were the main two reserves in Iguodala and Livingston. They were going to be the favorites for the title with or without him.

Steph: When James left the Cavs, the team was coming off a 61-21 season. They were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in six games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Yes, the roster was aging and was set to step back the following season. James was everything to that team. It is sort of how you describe Durant to Oklahoma City.

Durant was playing alongside Russell Westbrook, a super great and young twenty-something shooter and a fantastic big man, Steven Adams. Nobody can tell me those three weren’t a force to be reckoned with. In fact, if Durant returned, I would have tagged Oklahoma City the favorite to win.

Kevin Durant

Photo credit: Keith Allison

With regard to James going to the Miami Heat in 2010, he virtually hand picked who he would work well with. And, if you believe Russell Westbrook was the easiest teammate to get along with, you are dreaming. Despite popular opinion — Westbrook’s personality absolutely affected KD and not in a good way.

Additionally, the Heat was already an over 500 team, but in the off season added LeBron James and Chris Bosh, alongside Dwyane Wade. The Heat took an above 500 team and transformed it to a powerhouse by any metric for that time.

Michael: Well, for one thing, James is from Akron, an hour outside of Cleveland. Even when he played for the Heat, he spent his offseasons in Ohio. That’s always been his base. He’s never strayed from that. Durant is from Washington D.C.

Steph: James was a god in Cleveland. And, if it is as you say, why leave? Oh, a championship?

Michael: James wanted to play with Wade and Bosh, sure, and he did think it was going to be easy to dominate. He learned it wasn’t quite so simple. But it still wasn’t a ready made team that would’ve been a title-favorite without him. The bottom line is teams without LeBron James on them don’t do a thing. They lose and lose big. They often wind up getting #1 picks like Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, actually.

Teams without Kevin Durant have done fine. The Warriors set an NBA record last year in wins and would’ve won a title if not for Green’s suspension in Game 5. And they played their best basketball of the season this year when Durant was injured. They won, 14 in a row. They beat the Spurs on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. They clobbered Houston. They won TWO playoff games against Portland without him. You see the Cavs ever winning a playoff game without James? Heck, forget KD, the Warriors were winning playoff games without Curry, the unanimous MVP last year.

Steph: LeBron James is one in a generation basketball player. Of course, wherever he goes, he is going to make that kind of impact. Cleveland is probably the most emotionally tortured sports city in history. With James leaving, he was arguably the most hated professional athlete for two years. The only emotional victory was the when the Heat lost the Championship. In a way, it made him somewhat mortal and people began to forgive him.

I get when players leave, it stings a city. If Steph Curry were to leave for another city in free agency, I would be livid. And, he will get that opportunity when he is a free agent next year. This is sports. It is basketball and every athlete deserves the choice.

As a fan, I may not agree, but athletes have their reasons. James had his for deserting his city and team. And, while Durant is more concealed with his remarks, team dynamics definitely played a part. You have to be happy at work.

Michael: First off, I don’t think Curry would get too much heat for leaving. And, any place he would land would most likely be a worse team than the one he left. Durant did the opposite. Durant would not have been criticized for leaving OKC if he went to his hometown and joined the Washington Wizards. He would have been hailed as a hero. If he went to Boston, people would’ve been like, “Wow, that dude must really have hated Russ, but okay, good for him.” If he went to the Lakers, then he would’ve looked like a trailblazer, starting something new with a bunch of young guys and building from the ground floor.

Durant took the easy way out. Basically, he just doesn’t want to be looked at the way people look at Barkley, Malone, Stockton and Ewing or whomever when your first thought is automatically “great player, never won a ring.” He was desperate to remove that stigma.

Steph: John Stockton is my favorite NBA player. I do not even begin to understand that rationale and think it is an absurd argument. James didn’t go home, he left. Why is Durant expected to live within different parameters?

The Warriors went after Durant and had their sights on him for years, even before he became a free agent. In fact, the Warriors essentially have built their team around Stephen Curry. On any other team, Curry would probably struggle without the support he gets from his teammates. The Warriors have found something that works and in Durant, they found someone who could not only work within a system they created but excel.

Why go somewhere if you are just tolerated? Why not go somewhere you are celebrated? It was not just money or the general manager probing Durant to make the move, but the entire team was involved in recruiting KD. Key players like Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson were calling him. Even Steph Curry was sending him text messages to get him over. Who wouldn’t want to go?

Kevin-Durant

Photo Credit: KevinDurant.com

Michael: He’s Kevin Durant. All the teams pitched him with their stars and they all promised to make him the centerpiece of their plans and most if not all fanbases would’ve been delirious to have him. He could’ve been a difference-maker wherever he went. He’s not needed so much on the Warriors and hasn’t made much of a difference. The Warriors went from favorites to “there’s no point in even doing this” favorites. I can’t think of a basketball parallel to it, really. Even when Karl Malone and Gary Payton were chasing rings and joining the 2004 Lakers, they were both at the tail end of their careers. There is no parallel. The Warriors are in a league of their own.

Steph: People talk about Durant’s decision to go to a super duper team the same way they talk about anything. People only see what is villainous in their eyes, What we are really talking about is a player’s right to determine his own fate and why fans cannot hold players accountable to any sort of loyalty.

Even if a player declared their loyalty previously (see LeBron James), it really means nothing in the sports realm. It is a hard notion for fans to grasp, but it is the hard truth. So Oklahoma City has every right to boo, hiss and be mad.

When James left it was not rainbows and unicorns. He had a lot to say and the franchise and the fanbase was hurt by his remarks. In contrast, after Durant made his decision, the Thunder had nothing but positive remarks for Durant. Perhaps, fans should take a lesson from the general managers and realize there is more to it than just loyalty. It is their profession.

Michael: I’m not denying anyone their right to do anything. It’s a free planet. Like you said, he’s earned his free agency and the right to go wherever he pleases. But just like fans can’t dictate to players where they play, players can’t expect their decisions or legacies will be respected.

Personally, I will never give Durant the respect or credit for winning a title with the Warriors, but I would have if he did it in OKC or elsewhere. I will not be disrespectful to him as a person or as a human being, but I do not have to respect his decision. There is nuance there. You can dislike somebody for ruining your entertainment product. That’s allowed. And you can make your displeasure known without crossing lines of decorum and taste and civility.

Steph: I agree 100%. I can barely tolerate LeBron James. I think he is a fantastic basketball player and I will give him that respect. As a fan, I can never understand his decision, but I respect his choice. He dealt with the ramifications of his choice for years and undoubtedly paved the way for Durant, in a sense.

In any event, while we disagree, I certainly understand your perspective. It is probably one that fires most of the vitriol toward the Golden State Warriors.

At the same time, I doubt neither the Warriors franchise nor Kevin Durant is going to lose sleep over it. They have a job to do and it is to win games. Nothing more, nothing less. The sooner fans come to terms with it, the better. This will not be the first nor the last player to disappoint fans when it comes to loyalty.

Michael: I’m not mad at the dude for being disloyal. I’m mad he chose the Dubs. 25 other teams, but he chose them? I will never dig that. Like you said, I doubt he loses sleep over it and the Warriors are gonna win games.

Likely, they are going to keep winning with or without him. And I thought he was competitive enough to want to matter in outcomes of these games. His absence has hurt OKC more than it’s helped the Warriors and I think that’s the opposite of what any free agent should want to accomplish.

Steph: As stated previously, Durant had significant factors in choosing Golden State. Sure, a championship was a key factor. At the same time, there were also other tangibles — like enjoying life on a team with players you are compatible with.

The Warriors have created a welcoming environment where the whole team can contribute. There is a new star every night and they play as a true team. Undoubtedly, this peace of mind and positive environment must be what attracted Durant most. While we disagree, it reinforces what an awesome organization the Warriors are.

Go Dubs!

Author’s Credit: Thanks to Michael Erler. You can follow him on twitter @MichaelErlerSBN

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @warriorsFGSN.

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Photo credit:

  • Kevin Durant image on flickr by Keith Allison
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Stephanie McCarroll

Bringing you the latest news and commentary on the team I’ve loved forever, the Golden State Warriors.

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