On June 30, 2019, Kevin Durant announced he was planning to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Three seasons and only one playoff series win later, it seems KD will be on the move again. While no one will ever dare question the 7-foot unicorn's basketball ability, it's pretty easy to question his NBA legacy. Here's a look back on KD's bewildering career, and what I think he should do if he wants to be known as one of NBA's 10 best players of all time.
As the youngest scoring champ ever (30ppg at 21?!?), playing in a brand new NBA city, KD and the young upstart Thunder were the darlings of the 2010's NBA. KD, Russ & Harden had Chesapeake (now known as Paycom, ugh) rockin' nightly. That arena damn near had the energy of a Duke vs UNC game every night. The Thunder are still OKC's only major sports franchise, so that city had every reason to adore KD and his team.
The first round of the 2010 playoffs was KD's coming out party, as he, Russ & JH pushed Kobe and the defending champion Lakers to 6 grueling games. They won 50(!) games as an eighth seed and their future was looking bright as lightning.
In 2012, they made it all the way to the Finals. Oklahoma City was electric. After 5 games, the Thunder lost to LeBron's super Heat, but that didn't matter. The Thunder made it. They (not Harden lol) were here to stay and there was no looking back.
The next year, OKC traded away the 6th man of the year, yet still managed to win 60 games. By 2014, KD (now rocking suits instead of backpacks) won an MVP. His speech is still the most memorable MVP speech to date. "You da real MVP" and a tear jerking Russ shoutout had NBA fans swooning, no matter what team you rooted for. You just wanted that team to succeed. You wanted KD to succeed.
Dealing with the loss of James, injuries and some KD vs. Russ drama, the Thunder never fully got it together until 2016. They were up 3-1 against the defending champion Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Things were looking amazing. Another chance at the title was imminent. Then, as fast as lightning strikes, it was over. Just like that.
Game 6 Klay, Steph holding up 7 fingers, Draymond kicking Steven Adams in the nuts, it was all too much for the Thunder. KD and Russ struggled down the stretch of every game. They couldn't get over the hump. There were tears, sad interviews, and quotes of "run it back" and "for this team, I'd do anything" were abundant (look up Dion Waiter's postgame presser after the game 7 defeat). Next season, the Thunder did not run it back.
On July 4, 2016, a Players Tribune article titled "My Next Chapter" featured a black and white photo of KD with his arms crossed. In a shocking move he announced he would be joining the team he had just lost to. In what many viewed as "the weakest move a superstar has ever made" KD's innocence was gone. Gone were the days of glasses and backpacks. A villain was born. Anakin was gone, Vader was who remained.
My favorite moment of the KD-Warriors era came in a regular season game on Nov 22, 2017. Russ had won an MVP of his own the season before (thanks in part to the KD villain narrative) and on this night, Russ was out for blood. He, Melo and PG ran up the score on the Dubs, much to the delight of the sellout Chesapeake crowd. Russ and KD went face to face in a scuffle and Russ was screaming, stomping and having the time of his life beating up his old running mate. NBA fans from all over had the time of their lives too. For a moment, revenge was served in true Westbrook fashion.
During the 2018-2019 season, it was apparent KD would be on the move again. Fights with Draymond Green in the middle of a game, yelling at reporters such as Chris Haynes, and many more stories illustrated that the Durant-Warriors relationship had grown toxic. Dray literally told KD that the Dubs didn't need him to win. In 2022, they would prove just that.
The KD-Warriors toxicity materialized on June 10th, 2019. KD re-aggravated a "calf" injury from May, and ruptured his Achilles vs the Raptors during the 2019 NBA Finals, robbing him and the Warriors of their three peat dreams. KD was such a villain, the Raptors fans actually cheered when he went down in pain.
On June 30th, 2019, KD announced he would be joining his "best friend" Kyire Irving on the Brooklyn Nets. It was a fresh start for KD, and a new chance to prove himself. Once he recovered from injury, he looked like KD, the best player in the world. An old friend, James Harden would later join them.
It was KD's team. He tried his best LeBron impression and became the defacto GM of the Nets. They got a new Coach. They brought in more old friends (Deandre Jordan), regardless of money or fit to the team. KD was sure this would work. His chance to be the guy on a Championship team. In the 2021 playoffs, he was one big toe away from beating the eventual Champion Milwaukee Bucks. He signed a four year $198M extension with the Nets that summer.
A few months ago, they dealt Harden away for Ben Simmons. Ben hasn't played a game in a Nets uniform yet. Kyrie barely played 30 games. In this years playoffs, the Nets got swept by a young upstart Celtics team (similar to that 2012 Thunder team now that I think about it). It's been rough few years in Brooklyn, riddled with drama and injury. Apparently that means it's time for KD to move on once again.
On June 30, 2022, three years to the day of when he announced he would join the Nets, KD requested a trade. As of today, no trade has been made. That may be a good thing, because if KD wants his redemption arc, he needs to stay in Brooklyn.
Kobe Bryant said in an interview:
"As a leader, you gotta be able to take the good with the bad. You can't just, because the ship is sinking, jump off and swim to another ship. You don't do that. If you can win championships in front of everybody, then you can miss the playoffs in front of everybody ... If you're doing something that's so easy, you might want to reconsider what you're doing. Durant's been a friend of mine for a very long time, same as LeBron and all those guys, would I have done the same? No, but that's their decision, that's their choice. I would have stayed."
If KD wants to cement his legacy as a top 10 player of all time, he has to stay. He needs to prove he can win as the unquestioned number one guy on the team. He has to drive the ship. He can't just jump ship once the going gets tough.
Joe Tsai, Sean Marks and the Nets continue to filter out trade packages unworthy of the great KD, and many deals have gone cold. Of course KD listed both number one seeds from each conference (Miami and Phoenix) as his preferred destinations. I really wouldn't be all that mad at a trade to Portland or Memphis (selfishly, I would love that as a Dame and Ja fan). But the fact remains, KD going to a better situation, once the going gets tough is similar to his move to leave OKC.
In the grand scheme of things, if KD goes to Phoenix and wins a couple more rings, 50 years down the line, no one will remember the way KD won, and what he did to get on those championship level teams. All they'll see are his stats, his number of Finals MVP's and I'm sure KD finds solace in that.
In the meantime, we'll be here, thinking about how KD has yet to fully, truly prove himself and live up to his top ten level talent. His basketball ability is god-tier, but to have an NBA legacy that rivals the all time greats, he needs to stay in Brooklyn; or go back to OKC, make things right with the Thunder, and bring home a Championship. Now that would be one hell of a redemption arc.
Let me know if you agree.