NBA free agency is only a few months away, and one of the biggest stars whose contract is expiring this July will be gunning for his third straight championship this June. Kevin Durant has experienced firsthand what it takes to taste champagne on the game's biggest stage, and he should be primed to take another team to the Promised Land next year. While the New York Knicks have been mentioned as an option, Durant would be wise to consider joining LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers instead.
The two-year, $61.5 million contract he signed last July with the Golden State Warriors includes an opt out after the first year. That clause, which he is expected to exercise in the summer, has everyone speculating where the former MVP go this offseason, and all indications point to almost anywhere except the Bay Area. Some pundits believe that he’s headed for the Knicks, but that route is littered with pitfalls that Durant may not be that prepared to avoid.
Rather than sign with New York, his best option would be to play for the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James. Reports of Durant not wanting to play alongside James in L.A. are rampant. But, rather than follow through with his reasons (valid or not) for staying away from his former summertime work out buddy, he should take some time to rethink his stance.
Here are three reasons Kevin Durant should reconsider joining LeBron James in L.A. when he opts out of his contract:
3. He’s better off playing ball than being the leader
Durant has had issues with being a team’s leader before, as he showed previously with the Oklahoma City Thunder before leaving for Golden State. Rather than sign with the Knicks where he will be asked to become the team’s leader whether he wants to or not, it would be much better for him if he simply played ball with the best in the game.
He’s not patient enough to massage other players’ egos or give rousing speeches that will get his teammates pumped up for a big game. Kyrie Irving learned that lesson the hard way.
When the Boston Celtics were struggling to find their groove early this year despite having a stacked lineup, Irving gave James a call to apologize for his behavior as a young player while the two played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 27-year old point guard was so eager to be the leader of his own team that he left the Cavs for Boston not realizing how difficult it is to lead younger players and teach them how to win.
“I had to call ‘Bron, and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips,” Irving told reporters (as transcribed by NBA.com). “I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that.”
After suffering an injury towards the end of last season, it’s only this year that Irving truly understood the enormity of his role as the Celtics' leader. As he was about to finish up on telling the world about his conversation with James, he shared a very astute insight into leadership that Durant needs to hear before he goes off and signs with another team.
“The responsibility of being the best player in the world and leading a team is something that's not meant for many people. And ‘Bron was one of those guys that came to Cleveland and tried to really show us what it's like to win a championship. And it was hard for him. Sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world. Fewer are meant for it or chosen for it. And I felt like the best person to call was him.”
Indeed, when it comes to leadership, many are called but few are chosen. It’s not meant for every superstar. There’s no harm in admitting that someone else was born to be the leader. Durant is better off leading by example.
When Paul George decided to play with the Thunder last season and then proceeded to re-sign with them long term last summer, he knew that he was never going to be the leader of that team. But, everyone knows who the best player in OKC is. George is an MVP candidate this season because Russell Westbrook gave him the reins to OKC's offense.
Could the King do the same for the Servant (the nickname Durant wanted for himself but never really stuck)? James has generally been generous in giving up the spotlight to fellow superstars on his team. During his time with the Cavs, Irving was the recipient of passes from James that led to game-winning shots. Remember, James allowed Irving to take the biggest shot in Cleveland sports history in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Being the best player on a team and being the leader of a team don’t have to fall on the same shoulders. Let James keep the leadership responsibility. Durant will be happy to just play ball, the way very few others can.
2. As LeBron’s career winds down, the Lakers become Durant's team
At 30 years old, Durant is still in the prime of his career, while the 34-year old James is fighting Father Time to stay at the top. If this season is any indication, the latter may be showing his age more than we think while the former remains one of the league’s best.
Going to New York, the Knicks automatically become Durant's team, but he would inherit a team that shipped away its best player, Kristaps Porzingis, who didn’t want to be there in the first place. What if Durant sees what Porzingis saw in the organization that led him to ask for a trade? He’ll be called a quitter in the same way that he was labeled when he left OKC.
If Durant were to decide to make Tinseltown his new place of residence, he’ll be the biggest star in Purple and Gold after James’ 4-year contract with the Lakers expires. He’s bound to be the best player on the team in a year or two, as his more senior teammate gives away certain offensive responsibilities and hands them to the 4-time scoring champion.
James has experience as the best player of someone else’s team. When he went to the Miami Heat to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the former Cavalier risked the adoration of his fans to win championships. Everyone knew Miami was Wade’s team. But, after their first year of playing together didn’t end in a championship with all three stars taking turns in the offense, Wade gave the keys to the team to his best friend. The result? Back-to-back championships and two more MVPs for the 16-year veteran.
Durant could do something similar, with James at the tail end of his career. He has already shown signs of slowing down this season. NBA history is filled with anecdotes of stars with careers winding down that passed the torch to the younger player to become the face of the franchise.
The great Bill Russell was content with his leadership role, not bothered by John Havlicek becoming the star of the Celtics in the late ‘60s. David Robinson did that for Tim Duncan at a time when the Admiral was still one of the best players in the league. Reggie Miller’s last few seasons saw him allow Jermaine O’Neal to become the number one option on offense. Joe Dumars did the same for Grant Hill.
James was willing to take a step back for Irving to take over the team had the young star been patient enough to stay, learn, and grow. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t do the same for Durant in Los Angeles, who is aching to show that he didn’t jump on the Warriors’ bandwagon just to win a championship the easy way.
What better place to show that he can be the man than in L.A. where its biggest star is about to call it a career in a few years?
1. LeBron won’t win a championship without him
Perhaps the biggest motivation for Durant to win more and more championships (whether he admits to it or not) has been to take over the title of the best player in the game from James. He was tired of hearing that he’s the second best in the league for years, but without the championships to show for it. After two seasons in Golden State, he’s now one title away from matching his rival’s ring count.
James’ last championship was in 2016, and this season marks his first time not making the playoffs since his second year in the league. Right now, fans and media are feasting on how this season has shown us that he’s really not as good as Michael Jordan, the player he has idolized and is looking to surpass in the Greatest Of All Time debate. The narrative has turned against James and he needs help to recover from such a disastrous season. Unless a big-time free agent joins him in L.A., the chances that he will win a fourth championship are very slim.
If Durant decides to be that player that helps the 4-time MVP retake the title, not only will the Lakers have the best one-two punch in the league, many will see just how important he is to James’ career. The chances that James wins another championship will skyrocket and he will owe it all to Durant.
By giving James his best chance to win another ring, Durant will be credited for saving the 16-year veteran’s career. It will narrow the gap that separates the two in conversations about who the best player in the game is. Granted that the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden have taken over the narrative lately, James and Durant are considered among the best players of all time.
Think about it. Durant will be seen by many as James’ savior. Can you imagine how much KD will relish the way that sounds? Going to the Knicks won’t give Durant that privilege. There’s absolutely no comparison to simply going to New York where he’s not even sure if another co-star will be good enough for the two of them to win a title.
Rather, criticism of his game will be magnified by the New York media. Let’s face it. Durant isn’t that adept at handling scrutiny from the media in Golden State. How much more grumpy will he get when the lights get brighter in New York? By going to L.A., James will absorb much of the criticism for him if the partnership hits a few road bumps while Durant will get more praise than ever if he wins a championship with the Lakers.
If there’s any place where Durant can bolster his legacy as one of the greatest players ever, it’s in Los Angeles playing alongside James. Give it some thought, KD.