The league that could have been

September 25, 2016

via Wikipedia

This past NBA offseason is one that will certainly be remembered. With some of the biggest names in basketball: Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Dwyane Wade, and many others becoming free agents, we have come to see a trend that some might refer to as “The LeBron Effect”. In 2010, NBA superstar and future Hall of Famer LeBron James left his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. He joined forces with NBA All-Star teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to chase his first championship. Since then, the loyalty of NBA franchise players has dramatically decreased as “super teams” were developed in the off seasons that followed. However, this offseason, one of the biggest moves since the assembling of the Miami Big Three took place. Kevin Durant, 2014 NBA MVP, four—time NBA scoring champion, and two—time Olympic Gold Medalist was at the top of the list of most valuable free agents this summer. He and his advising staff met with five teams during the summer: the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Celtics. 

Many figured a wide variety of factors would sway his decision. Some assumed being coached by the great Gregg Popovich would be something for him to check off his bucket list. Others thought that the Boston Celtics bringing Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady to the meeting would seal the deal. But in the end, a good sum of people thought Durant’s relationship with his long time teammate and fellow all-star point guard Russell Westbrook would be all it took to keep him in Oklahoma City. But, sad to say, we all were wrong. Durant announced on July 5th, that he would sign with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have made it to back to back Finals, winning their first, and then losing their second in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors broke numerous records as a team, even surpassing the ’95-’96 Bulls regular season record with 73 wins and only 9 losses. It’s safe to say after adding a threat like Kevin Durant to that already overpowered roster, opposing teams won’t train lightly to face them. While the Warriors team is set for success, there is only one question to ask: Did Durant make the right move?

Many Golden State fans would say yes. Fans from just about everywhere else will wonder how all of the star power will fit on that one team. Where do I think would have been the best fit for the former OKC superstar? The Boston Celtics. The Celtics had a reasonably successful season last year. They finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 48-34. Although they were eliminated by the fourth seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round, they had some remarkable stats during the regular season. Ranking fifth in points per game (105.7), sixth in rebounds per game (44.9), sixth in assists per game (24.2), second in steals per game (9.2), and first in opponent’s turnovers per game (15.8), it is obvious they made their impact on the league last season. With fourth year head coach Brad Stevens leading the charge, they have improved each and every year during his tenure. After shifting the offense to be centralized on off ball movement and passing, the Celtics have found their identity and proven to be tough competition even without a star player. The acquisition of former Atlanta Hawks All-Star center Al Horford makes Boston even more of a threat. 

Would adding a former MVP seal the deal? Let’s take a look. Kevin Durant finished off last season third in the list of the NBA’s scoring leaders (28.2 ppg). Scoring isn’t Boston’s weakness, but, Boston does have room for improvement in field goal percentage. Boston finished 24th in field goal percentage (43.9%) and 28th in 3 point field goal percentage (33.5%). However Kevin Durant finished 24th overall in FG% (50.5%) and 41st overall in 3P% (38.6%). These percentages put him at fourth and tied for seventh, respectively, among small forwards. 

Still don’t think that makes him a good fit? Kevin Durant’s offensive playing style has many different aspects to it. Putting more emphasis on post shots and pick and roll capabilities, Boston’s offense is exactly where his versatility will thrive. With Boston’s isolation post game as well as constant use of picks, Kevin Durant would not only find himself scoring but also being a much better facilitator. With the attention he would draw off of the pick, it would leave many shooters open such as Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley. Still need convincing? Why don’t we draw attention to Durant’s 7’5” wingspan that makes him quite a presence on the defensive end. With premier perimeter defender Avery Bradley and the addition of Al Horford for even more paint protection, a lengthy Durant at the three would be more of a complement to what Boston has set up on defense. 

Looking at the bigger picture, Durant appeared to have left OKC for some reason. Was it his dimming lime light stemming from a growing dominance from Russell Westbrook? Was it his restless chase for a championship that was growing longer and longer? We may never know his exact reason for leaving the Thunder. All we know is he’s not looking for the place where he can get the most money. But, seeing how he signed with the Warriors, it makes us inclined to believe that he probably is just trying to put himself in the best position to win a ring. Can they win it all? Most definitely. However, that will most likely be at the cost of minutes and star power from either him or other renowned players in the Warriors lineup. 

In Boston, ever since General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge traded away future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013, the spotlight has been shifting. It’s moved from point guard Rajon Rondo, who was later traded, to small forward Jeff Green, who was also traded, to point guard Isaiah Thomas. Even now, with Boston’s well-balanced offense, the spotlight still remains kind of dim as the franchise lacks a face. Who better than Kevin Durant to serve as that face to lead the team through the Eastern Conference? Now not only would Durant still retain most of his stardom, he would be joining an organization that has also been on the rise and looks to pose a threat to the two time defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This would set up a wonderful matchup in the NBA’s weaker conference and still earn him the praise, if not more, of his fans. 

Is Golden State a bad pick for him? Probably not. Could Boston have been a better destination? At this point we will never know. All we can hope for is yet another exciting, record breaking season!

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com

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