Is Kevin Durant Bound for Golden State? Not If He Remains True to Himself

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 26, 2016

Illustration by Ishaan Mishra, Bleacher Report

If the very good Oklahoma City Thunder can't stand up to the historically great Golden State Warriors in two matchups in the coming week, and one of the game's brightest talents can't help but imagine switching teams, Kevin Durant sure isn't going to say so.

He is too dedicated, determined and self-confident to take that easy way out and surrender.

It would be shocking.

It would be damning.

Exploiting the blip that is the unforeseen NBA salary-cap spike to bandwagon-jump to an already established Warriors machine would be downright out of character.

It'd be legacy by loophole.

Durant is better than that.

Wilting under the frustration and running for a security blanket that would in fact be Stephen Curry's coattail? Durant wouldn't be the man we've come to know him to be.

He has been all about working for his rewards and pursuing his personal best. He already can be mentioned among the greatest players in league history because he believes he is worthy of a legacy as opposed to entitled to one.

Durant's nerve to believe so deeply in himself and think so highly of himself is the snag to this runaway speculation about Durant going to the Warriors in free agency.

The flaw in the plan is to think this guy would do that, no matter the sense it makes for a guy to maximize his odds of winning a championship if he can.

Durant knows he's a leader, not a follower.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- FEBRUARY 21:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder huddles with his team before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 21, 2016 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

He has been clear not to hint anything about free agency. His thimble-sized circle of trust has been sewn shut; only agent Rich Kleiman and manager Charlie Bell know Durant's musings. Projections that the Warriors or Wizards or Lakers might be the current leaders are mere fantasy at this point when Durant hasn't even decided to leave the Thunder.

And yes, he might leave the Thunder.   

As true as Durant's affection for Oklahoma City is, he has become well aware of the limitations—whether the luxury-tax fears of ownership costing the team James Harden or the semi-rural grasslands turning off free agents such as Pau Gasol. Durant actually has regrets about not putting player options in his contract so he had escape power earlier in his career.

He might still leave even if the Thunder manage to topple the Warriors and all others when it counts in June. Two summers ago, the only thing Durant allowed that would make for a roadblock to leaving would be consecutive OKC championships to get him thinking dynasty. That's already out of the question.

And with the Warriors bringing a 52-5 record into Oklahoma City on Saturday night, it's hard to assume anything but another Golden State title now.

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on February 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It doesn't follow, though, that another Warriors title would push Durant to Golden State.

Durant has made abundantly clear his disdain for being second. Not only would Durant be second to Curry on the Warriors, he'd rank behind every other guy who has already planted the championship flag for the organization. It's not even so much that Durant's personal brand would suffer from being a castmate; it's just such a cop-out for an all-time great to shrug and say, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Even with as much of the ball as Russell Westbrook gets for the Thunder now, Durant isn't No. 2 in OKC. Durant is secure in his standing, which is why he is so comfortable wanting the best for Westbrook—right down to contorting his body with each Westbrook shot late in the All-Star Game in Toronto, an apparent attempt to will that MVP trophy into Westbrook's hands.

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: MVP Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference is congratulated by teammate Kevin Durant #35 after defeating the Eastern Conference during the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on
Elsa/Getty Images

Yes, Durant is good enough of a guy that he could fit right in with the Warriors. He'd be largely wasting his skill as the game's best at getting his own shot—and plenty of folks would probably start to wonder if he even chews his mouthpiece just to be like Curry—but Durant has the character to make it work.

That's why it's natural for the Warriors to go for it, trying as they should to get better and adhering to the ownership initiative Joe Lacob always planned for his team to be a large-market power, expecting to contend for everything all the time.

Yet even if it all worked out and the Warriors with Durant continued to dominate the league, it would still be a stain on NBA history. We would never forget the impromptu influx of 2016 TV money that allowed Durant to subvert the planned salary-cap structure and twist the system to create the type of super team the collective bargaining agreement was supposed to prevent.

As notorious as LeBron James' Decision was in 2010, it wasn't as legacy-deflating as Durant's move would be. James teamed with rivals but didn't piggyback with a club that didn't need him to win a title. He left a Cleveland team that had just posted the best record in basketball to join a Miami team that had won only one game in the playoffs' first round.

It is certainly Durant's prerogative to make whatever decision he wants this summer.

But he has stood for something these nine years.

Alternately humble and savage, always competitive, Durant is increasingly comfortable in his own skin. His 27.34-point career scoring average is just a smidge from third place all time (Elgin Baylor 27.36, Wilt Chamberlain 30.07, Michael Jordan 30.12).

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder backs in on Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors during an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on February 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It's all tremendous stuff—and more than Curry, also 27, has accomplished overall, no matter the current phenomenon.

Hopefully we will remember Durant for his true excellence, that majestic MVP speech and everything else he earns in this career…instead of being a great player who took the easy way out right in his prime.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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