The decision by Kevin Durant to leave Oklahoma City, a team that was one win from its second trip to the NBA Finals, for the Golden State Warriors is further evidence that D.C. never stood a chance.
That the Wizards didn’t have an indication of this sooner, long before they realized he wouldn’t even grant them a meeting in free agency, isn’t the best of looks. But now that Durant is signing a one-plus-one deal with the Warriors (a two-year contract with a second-year player option), the Wizards aren’t resetting to make a run at the 2013-14 league MVP next summer. This ship has long sailed. As a league source told CSNmidatlantic.com last week, playing in at home “doesn’t resonate” with Durant.
But what Monday’s decision makes abundantly clear is that Durant wants to win a championship now. Even had he joined Washington, this team wouldn’t have become a hands-down favorite to win anything. As long as LeBron James remains healthy, the East always goes through him and there’s no reason to believe that by Durant just magically appearing would change it.
Would it help? Certainly. Would Durant sell more tickets and boost the atmosphere at Verizon Center? Most definitely.
I’ve always said that the romanticized tales about coming home is overdone. The assumptions made by media and fans generally get out of hand and take on a life of their own. For every LeBron James going back to Cleveland, there's Dwayne Wade turning down his hometown of Chicago in 2010. It took years, when Deron Williams was well past his prime, no longer elite and unwanted, for him to return to Dallas. A similar narrative applies to the path of Dwight Howard, who never seriously considered Atlanta until now that he's on the downside of his career and has been rejected everywhere else. Home is the fallback plan when all else fails, the security blanket, or in more crude parlance in which a lot of wealthy athletes can attest ... the "side chick."
Going home isn’t for everyone. There are certain pressures that come with it that are unwelcomed. There are people you want to avoid. Both were reasons, I was told, that contributed to Durant saying no. These guys are millionaires many times over so if they missed home that much, they could charter jets every day to get home for mom's cooking. You don't have to play in a city to go home. And plenty of people prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate.
Getting a face-to-face meeting if you’re not in serious consideration, while it might look good if you’re concerned with public relations, is pointless. This city has enough of that sort of dishonest politicking. The Dallas Mavericks have gotten countless face-to-face meetings with elite free agents and despite having won a 2011 NBA championship came up empty-handed. And their cupboard was bare again this summer until this move by Durant forced the Warriors to trade Andrew Bogut to them to clear cap space and not match Harrison Barnes' offer sheet.
All this courtship accomplishes, if you don't land the prize, is setting you back from retooling your roster. After a slow start to free agency, the Wizards have arranged an unspectacular but potentially solid cast to put around their starting five: Tomas Satoransky, Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Trey Burke.
Can they top last season’s 41-41 win team? Yes. But the rest of the East has gotten better. The Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks improved themselves on paper. The translation to how the game is played on the court, however, is the tricky part. As with most teams in the NBA, the Wizards will go only as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal lead them. There is no Durant to lean on.
Despite all his accolades and scoring titles, Durant is in the ring-chasing business in hopes of solidifying his greatness. He's just like LeBron James when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers to win two with the Miami Heat.
It's difficult to blame Durant after spending nine years in a small market that can be suffocating. What's not to like about being in the Bay Area and playing for a 73-win team that has made the NBA Finals two years in a row and won the championship? With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors are fresh and hip.
Today's players have come up in an era where changing teams in high school to better your chances at recognition and a scholarship -- going from basketball mill to basketball mill -- is commonplace. They do the same with AAU teams.
The hot-take analysis, be it on TV, radio, social media or at the expresso machine, is about rings. That's how this culture ultimately determines greatness. Actually understanding the nuances, and focusing the finer details that go unnoticed to many, requires ongoing debate. That doesn't fit into 140 characters. There are just too many layers to peel back and historical perspective to use as context. So it's about Bill Russell's 11 rings or Michael Jordan's six. Jerry West - you know, the guy on the NBA logo - only had one ring. So, despite his other worldly accomplishments, he's barely a footnote.
So while I'm not crazy about Durant's decision, I understand it. We've helped create a toxic sports environment that puts pressure on today's players to feel like this is what they must do to be fully appreciated and respected and subconsciously these are the conclusions they're coming to more often than not.
Maybe after Durant has his rings, like James did in Miami, he'll warm up to the idea of returning home. Maybe one day at 601 F Street there will be a ring of a different kind and it'll be Durant on the phone. But make no mistake that this chase was over -- for the Boston Celtics, L.A.. Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and before them the Wizards -- the minute he decided he needed a fully stacked deck. There only was one choice.