Kevin Durant’s decision looms large over small-market teams
Monday’s decision by Kevin Durant on Independence Day to flee the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors shook up the entire National Basketball Association. The league as a whole is still feeling the after effects of the seismic shift in power of Durant’s move from the Plains to the Bay Area even though the Warriors were already a powerhouse in a league looking for more parity.
But that simply won’t happen now that one of the top three players in the game today (Durant) jumped ship for a team out West that already has three of the top 12 players in the league with back-to-back Most Valuable Player in Stephen Curry, 3-point marksman shooting guard Klay Thompson and do-everything power forward Draymond Green. Now, the Warriors have arguably the greatest team ever assembled, talent-wise, and look like a lock to reach a third straight finals.
Let’s not forget that the Warriors are coming off of a historic season, winning 73 regular season games to snap the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins during the 1995-96 season. Now, by adding Durant the Warriors have gotten that much better and are the clear-cut favorite to win the championship heading into the 2016-17 season.
This move from Oklahoma City to San Francisco not only shakes up the power rankings of the NBA, but it largely shakes up the future of the league, especially for small market teams such as the Thunder, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and, yes, the Denver Nuggets, to name a few.
By losing Durant in free agency, the Thunder was dealt a crippling blow by not being able to keep their own star long-term. Sure, Durant stayed in Oklahoma City for eight years, but his move now shows that great players want to play in big markets. Durant’s jersey and shoe sales declined over the last two years, and I’m sure the latter had Nike — which signed Durant to a $300 million endorsement deal two summers ago — fretting about his lack of exposure in Oklahoma City.
The move to San Francisco to play for the Warriors will only raise his stock, but much like what happened to LeBron James when he made the move to the Miami Heat in 2010, Durant is now viewed as a villain across the country by fans hurt by this decision, especially in Oklahoma City.
From a purely basketball standpoint, the move by Durant to the Warriors makes perfect sense. How could anyone who hits free agency and has the chance to join a core of Curry, Green and Thompson while also making a large chunk of change not make the jump, especially when the whole notion of “RINGZ” being the only thing that matters when judging a player’s career? That notion is something I’ll save for another column, but I don’t blame Durant one bit for leaving. Sure, he took the easy path to a championship, but that’s the way the league is going, and that’s what brings me to the point of his move being bad for the league: He’s set a precedent for other stars in small markets to leave as soon as they can, which could cripple the infrastructure that is the NBA.
Back when Carmelo Anthony was lighting it up on a nightly basis at the Pepsi Center, he was a beloved star for the Nuggets. But by growing tired of playoff failures and a lack of talent around him, Anthony forced a trade to the New York Knicks, which is one of the largest markets in the league. Although it really hasn’t worked out for Anthony and it was a great trade for the Nuggets, who acquired Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and Raymond Felton in the deal, it was a show of force by a league superstar who wanted out of a small market.
Now, with Durant fleeing for green pastures and brighter lights, small-market franchises should expect a domino affect moving forward, considering the league salary cap will jump another $10 million to 13 million next off-season, thanks to the NBA’s ridiculous $24 billion — yes, billion — TV deal with ESPN.
For the small market teams with budding superstars like the Pelicans (Anthony Davis), Timberwolves (Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns), Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and even the Thunder with Russell Westbrook have to start fretting about the possibility of losing their stars down the line to bigger and better markets.
Westbrook will be a free agent next summer and is no lock to stay long term, so he could be on the move via trade. Even the Nuggets should be worried about the prospects of keeping guys like Jusef Nurkic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Kenneth Faried long term.
Back when the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed by the league and the players association in 2011, the whole idea behind creating max individual salaries and other contract stipulations was to make sure that small markets could keep their stars while making it harder for big markets to create super teams similar to the Heat with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Now, that ugly head has reared itself once again with the Warriors. Although they did everything by the book in signing Durant, a historically great team just got that much better by signing a generational talent without losing a significant piece.
Owners and general managers are dumbfounded and furious that this has happened, and rightfully so.
If something doesn’t change at the new CBA negotiations in 2018, the league could quickly go downhill in terms of competitive balance and interest.
It’s wise for the league and commissioner Adam Silver to do everything possible to spread the wealth of talent evenly while making sure super teams can’t be put together like this.
The fate of small-market franchises now and into the future depends on it.
Josh Carney is the sports editor for the Post Independent.
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