Much has been going around this year about Kevin Duran and LeBron James. Are their careers identical after dominating with one team, never winning a ring, and then forming a super team to get their first ring? Now that Durant is one win away and unless lightning strikes twice in Oakland, the Golden State Warriors will win this years NBA Championship. Kevin Durant will get his first ring and he will be crowned NBA Finals MVP, just like LeBron when he won his first in Miami. But are the situations alike?
They both went to form superteams and both got their first rings with said superteam, so what makes them different? I break it down:
LeBron James dominated the NBA as soon as he stepped foot on the NBA hardware. James a 2x MVP, 6x All-Star, 4x All NBA first team, 2x All NBA second team, 2x NBA defensive first team, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA scoring champion (2008) and a Gold medalist, all before the age of 25. Already cementing himself as one of the greatest to ever play. But the one thing he could not capture? An NBA championship. LeBron was swept in his only trip to the Finals in 2007 by the San Antonio Spurs. No shame in that though. Look at the roster LeBron had that year.
So, the 2009-2010 season was complete with LeBron and the Cavs losing to the best team in the Eastern Conference and the first superteam of this generation, the Boston Celtics. LeBron was setting a legacy. He had a chance to become the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. Hell, there are arguments today that he might be the best to ever do it. I don’t think so, I still think he has a while to get to MJ, but he’s in the discussion. However, to be the best, you have to win rings. And with the roster the Cavs had, cc the above picture, the Cavs didn’t have the firepower to win, even with LeBron. So, LeBron left Cleveland, his home town, his childhood state, everything he knew he had to leave. He joined forces with the Miami Heat, as we all know, with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. 2 future hall of famers.
Kevin Durant: dominated the NBA as soon as he stepped foot on the NBA hardware. Sound familiar? Thought so. NBA MVP, 7x All-Star, 5x All NBA First team, 4x NBA scoring champ, all before the age of 27. But he couldn’t capture that championship, the eluded ring. So for the first time in his career, Kevin Durant was a free agent and he had to make a decision. And he made that decision. Kevin Durant was headed to Oakland, California and joining the Golden State Warriors. Joining Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Greene, 3 potential hall of famers, and now adding another one.
Here is the difference, and it’s a big difference. For starters, when LeBron joined the Heat in 2010, the Heat won 47 wins in the 2009-2010 season. Chris Bosh is a nice piece to any team, and I know above I said he’s a hall of famer, but now that his career is over, he’ll be a borderline hall of famer or not. Bosh sacrificed a lot with LeBron being in Miami and he was a solid piece but never a cornerstone when him and LeBron joined Wade. So, if LeBron never joined the Heat and Miami still added Bosh, the Heat were not going to win a title. They would’ve still be the third best team in the East behind the Celtics and Cavs. But LeBron joins Miami, the Heat go from 47 wins and a first round exit in 5 games in the first round to 58 wins and a NBA Finals berth in the first year of LeBron. A 11 win increase and obviously a deeper run in the playoffs.
Kevin Durant joined the Warriors. A team with 3 other All Stars and s foundation already built. All the Warriors had to do to manufacture their roster to add Durant was getting rid of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. They didn’t have to get rid of Curry, Thompson or Green. They didn’t have to drop their bench, Iguodala, Livingston, and they added David West. 3 solid veterans who thrived in their NBA Granted, Barnes and Bogut are nice players, but they are no Kevin Durant. The Warriors replaced Andrew Bogut with Zaza Pachulia, so not much difference and then they replaced Harrison Barnes with Durant. Talk about a major upgrade. Here’s the difference, when LeBron joined the Heat they were a 47 win team and they had a completely different roster when LeBron joined. The Heat had to add 8 free agents to that 2010 team. 8 new players joined the Heat. Yes, they had 3 superstars, but they never played with each other before and now they have a completely different roster to play and gel with. However, when Durant joined the Warriors, he was just implemented into the roster. There was no turnover like in Miami. Curry, Thompson and Green all know how to play with each other. All they had to do is get Kevin Durant, the 2nd best player in the world up to speed and truthfully, that is not a difficult task.
So for starters, the Heat were basically risking it all, the Warriors were not. The Heat had to trade 6 total picks to the Cavs and Raptors to bring in LeBron and Bosh. It was a high risk, high reward. If this didn’t work out and they couldn’t gel together, the Heat would have no future. They traded almost every pick they had for the next 3 years. The Warriors were in a low risk, high reward. The Warriors were coming off a 73 win year and they didn’t have to give up any major pieces or draft picks to get Durant. They still have picks for the future, and all their all starts, if it didn’t work, it didn’t matter. They would’ve just went back to what did work.
Here’s the other thing. The Heat needed LeBron to win a title. The Warriors did not need Durant to win a title. If LeBron did not join the Heat from the years 2010-2014 the Heat wouldn’t of won any titles. But LeBron joined and he brought 2 titles to Miami. The Warriors won the title in the 2014-2015 season and should’ve won the title in the 2015-2016 season if they didn’t blow a 3-1 Finals lead to the Cavs. They could’ve won back-to-back titles without Durant. And if Durant stayed in Oklahoma City? The Warriors still would’ve won this Finals against the Cavs this year. That would’ve been 2 titles and 3 Finals appearances without Durant. The Heat don’t get that without LeBron. Not even close.
Finally, LeBron needed to join the Heat to win. The Cavs didn’t have the roster or star power to contend with the Celtics at the time. There had to be a change at the top of the Eastern Conference and with LeBron joining the Heat, he gave that to the NBA. Durant did not give that to the NBA. In fact, he did the exact opposite. By joining the Warriors he kept the power where it was instead of trying and beating. And the unfortunate thing? In the 2015-2016 season, the Thunder had the roster and the team to beat the Warriors. They even had a 3-1 lead against the 73 win Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. But why didn’t the Thunder advance to the Finals that year? 2 words. Kevin Durant. He was atrocious in games 5-7 and committed more turnovers at the end of the games than any superstar player should ever had. Durant had Westbrook and the roster to do it, but he lost the Western Conference Finals and then left to join the team that beat him. That’s shameful. That’s like LeBron joining the Celtics. It would’ve been terrible.
Even if Durant stayed in OKC and got another free agent, they would’ve been better than the Warriors this year. He would’ve been a hero forever, now he’s one win away from getting his elusive title but how much does it mean in the archives of NBA history? Did KD do it the right way? I don’t think so. He had the team to win OKC. He had this years MVP in Westbrook. The Thunder had the blueprint to beat the Thunder. He just couldn’t do it himself.
Two superstar players, two players who will finish in the hall of fame and 2 players who will be top 10 players of all time, but two different career paths. Does KD go home to OKC and win a title with the Thunder like LeBron did with the Cavs? If he does so, it would be one way to save his reputation of winning a ring the right way. Does LeBron move to the Heat look a lot better after KD went to the Warriors? The thing is, LeBron went home and won a ring for his home state and had to build another foundation in Cleveland the second time. Durant left his foundation and joined one he had nothing to do to help build.