Why Kevin Durant Is a Better Franchise Cornerstone Than LeBron James

Ethan NorofCorrespondent IJune 5, 2012

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 16:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat guards Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a game at American Airlines Arena on March 16, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

If I'm building a roster from scratch and could choose any player in the league to choose as my franchise player, my choice is going to be Kevin Durant over LeBron James every time.

James is the most talented player in the league right now. An absolute freak athlete capable of doing things that shouldn't be possible, LeBron is unlike anyone we've ever seen in the NBA previously. He does things at both ends of the floor that make fans say "wow," and at just 27 years old, James is entering his prime.

But what about Durant? Described by evaluators as a bona fide scorer before he was drafted out of Texas, there were questions about whether or not he'd ever develop the other aspects of his game. Could he make his presence felt on the glass? Would he improve his defense? What about his wiry frame? Durant has answered all of those questions with his continued evolution on the court through his first five seasons.

At just 23 years of age, Durant is already a superstar. Establishing career-high averages in field-goal percentage (49.6), rebounds (8.0), assists (3.5) and blocks (1.2), K.D. put the cherry on top of his 2011-12 season with 28.0 points per game. Durant also shot an impressive 86 percent from the line while shooting 38.7 percent from behind the three-point arc.

In other words, what didn't Durant do this season to prove that he should be considered the first pick if we were starting from a clean slate?

Here is a look at how the two players' averages compare from this season.

LeBron James: 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 53.1 percent shooting, 77.1 percent from the free throw line

Kevin Durant: 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks, 49.6 percent shooting, 86 percent from the free throw line

Those numbers are pretty similar.

There is one key difference: their age. James is almost a full four years older than Durant, and that is something to take under firm consideration when constructing a team.

Far more than just a scorer, Durant's game has blossomed to new, unforeseen heights. There was some concern that he may not ever develop a "killer instinct," but his performance in the 2012 postseason has told a different story. Durant appears ready to really turn a corner, and that's bad news for the rest of the NBA.

Another thing to consider when juxtaposing Durant and LeBron is their difference in personalities. When James announced that he was going to sign with the Miami Heat as a free agent, he held a one-hour television special that we all remember as "The Decision."

When Durant signed his five-year extension with Oklahoma City, he delivered the message to his fans with a simple tweet and called it a "blessing."

Durant's agent at the time of his extension, Aaron Goodwin, said that the extension is what Durant wanted "from day one." Granted that Durant's situation with the Thunder differed from what James faced in Cleveland, the different ways each went about their future is certainly worth noting.

Some decision-makers in front offices around the league may not worry about personality as much as others, but if we're talking about guys to build a franchise around, all aspects of a player have to be considered both on and off the court.

Durant doesn't have a regular season MVP trophy in his collection yet, and although James already has three, that shouldn't be used as the sole measuring stick for success. Remember, Kobe Bryant only has one regular season MVP award in his collection, and I don't think anyone will be arguing against his talent any time soon.

Durant has everything you want in a franchise player, and he demands none of the attention traditionally associated with that role. He embraces his importance but is quick to give praise to teammates for his team's success.

In a superstar-driven league where the me-first attitude runs rampant, Durant is truly a breath of fresh air.