Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder: The Super Team's Kryptonite?
A day before LeBron's notorious "decision" rocked the landscape of modern basketball, another choice was made. Although nobody realizes it yet, this decision (despite its lack of egotistical flair), was arguably just as important as the one conducted by Jim Gray.
On Wednesday, July 7, a simple tweet confirmed that the Oklahoma City Thunder are here to stay.
We all know that by signing a five-year extension, Kevin Durant has solidified the Thunder as basketball-relevant. We all know that by signing a five-year extension, the Thunder will likely be a perennial playoff contender for quite sometime. We all know that by signing a five-year extension, Durant's Thunder, with the right pieces in place, could very well overtake the Lakers as the best in the west.
But what don't we know?
Durant's decision to stay in Oklahoma City will have a tremendous impact on the NBA on both the team and individual levels, as his ethos represents a counter movement to that of LeBron James and his Miami superfriends. Durant's choice to remain with the Thunder has essentially set up a clash of basketball ideologies – an NBA Cold War, if you will.
Structurally speaking, these teams are built upon principles that are complete polar opposites of each other. The Thunder, who have relied on a more organic grassroots approach, have built a highly talented young core of players in Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and James Harden, almost exclusively through savvy drafting. The average age of the Oklahoma City Thunder is a staggering 24.4.
Last season, Durant and company compiled a 50-32 record, a 27-win improvement from their 2008-2009 campaign. As the eighth seed in a brutally competitive Western Conference, the Thunder were a mere tip-in away from forcing a decisive game seven with the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
At the ripe age of 21, Durant won the scoring title with a rather impressive 30.1 ppg, beating a bunch of guys called LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant.
The fact that Durant won the scoring title is a huge deal. And no, not because he was barely old enough to enter a bar to celebrate his feat. As much as his accomplishment is a credit to himself, it is also a credit to the Thunder blueprint for success.
The team is built on a heliocentric model. That is, the offense revolves around Durant. Although Westbrook is arguably a pretty competent Robin to Durant's Batman, Oklahoma City would be a dark and desolate place in the absence of KD.
The Miami Heat, meanwhile, are built upon a completely different alter. Other than Wade, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem, no player is/will be indigenous to the Heat organization. With the exception of Wade, drafting has had absolutely no place in the makings of this team. Haslem, Chalmers, and even recent draft picks Da'Sean Butler and Jarvis Varnado are arguably interchangeable in the grand scheme of the Heat's formula for victory.
Why do I say this? Well, the Miami Heat are built upon more on a multipolar model. Superstars Wade, James, and Chris Bosh all have enough individual talent to carry a team by themselves. Thus, there is no nucleus, or gravitational center, of the team. For the Heat, power is not concentrated. It is distributed and fragmented.
In a tie game with five seconds left, who will take the last shot for the Oklahoma City Thunder? Unless Nenad Krstic is planted right under the basket more open than a Wal-Mart on Black Friday, the answer will always be Durant.
In a tie game with five seconds left, who will take the last shot for the Miami Heat?
Ah, now we have got ourselves a dilemma.
What we have here is a leadership void. Although this declaration may sound like a rather negative diagnosis, LeBron may tell you otherwise. In Cleveland, King James was the center of the biggest heliocentric model known to mankind. As we all know, he failed. Looking at Boston's version of the big three, responsibility decentralization may not be too shabby.
Paul Pierce was/is the leader of the Boston Celtics. He will nearly always be the one to take the last shot. The D-Wade only Heat are well aware of this fact, as they watched Pierce drain a buzzer beater on their home floor in the first round of the playoffs this year, putting the Celts up 3-0 in the series.
When the Heat hit a wall, it will be interesting to see who leads the rebound. It will be more interesting to see how the man who takes the backseat reacts. What Miami has in firepower may very well be compromised by a lack of stability. Yea, they may be great. But wasn't the Roman Empire? Just look at what too much decentralization did to them.
All I'm saying is that Thomas Hobbes wouldn't be a big fan of the Miami Heat. According to the great enlightenment thinker, humans are constantly at war with each other, fighting obsessively for power. If that's the case, Pat Riley has gotten himself into a royal mess.
You may be thinking that although it is great that I am conducting this great battle between the Heat and Thunder, it is exceedingly irrelevant because of a certain team in Los Angeles.
Although they are atop the totem pole now, the Lakers by no means represent the future of basketball. Phil Jackson's time on the bench is dwindling, and Kobe isn't exactly young. The Thunder, meanwhile, will be around for quite awhile. If players had to attend college all four years, Durant would have just been drafted. Moreover, some of their team wouldn't even be eligible for the NBA.
So, here we have it folks. The Thunder may be less talented than the Heat (as is every team in the NBA), but having played together for the past few years, they certainly have an advantage in the chemistry department, not to mention the stability that their heliocentric model provides. The Heat have more weapons than Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed , but they will certainly have some formalities to establish down the road.
Why is this even important? Well, the emergence of these two styles of team architecture represent a major turning point in NBA history. If the super-team model works, it will be attempted for decades to come. If it fails, it will be written off faster than Usain Bolt's 100-meter time.
Additionally, if the Thunder do succeed, Durant will emerge as the NBA's next unquestioned super star. Another writer at B/R has even made the case that Durant may very well become the next Michael Jordan:
The individual implications of these various "decisions" are more than fascinating, but these legacies will ultimately be decided by the success of their team's respective archetype.
Will Miami have enough ammunition to blow teams out of the water, or will the steadily rising Thunder, with their sense of togetherness and an established commander in chief, be able to dismantle this potentially unstoppable, yet heavily unstable, artillery?
That's why we play the game.
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