The next big thing syndrome.
We see it happen all the time, not just in sports but in all walks of life. A hot new thing emerges and everyone jumps on board, and usually the loudest supporters are the people who were behind the curve to begin with.
Fact is, twelve months ago, Kevin Durant was laboring in relative obscurity, considered a future mega-star by those in the know and basically disregarded by the everyone else.
No, coming off a strong 2010 and a dominant performance at the 2010 World Championships, Durant has suddenly become everyone’s favorite player, with the hyperbole machine spitting out things like “gonna be better than Jordan” and “best player in the league RIGHT NOW”.
Take it easy, people.
Thing is, it’s easy to get carried away when watching a breathtaking talent like KD, just 22 years old and not even close to his prime. Anyone who doubts his potential to be one of the all-time greats is just foolish, considering his incredible gifts and well documented work-ethic. Still, in the age we live in, where a 17 year old kid gets nicknamed King James and lands $100 million in endorsements before he’s played a single Pro game, people are all about annointing the next savior before they’ve earned it. Me, I prefer to remain skeptical until the guy proves himself. Once that happens, I’ll be on board.
With all that said, let’s talk about what Durant actually is, right now. Truth is, the kid is basically the next evolution of offensive basketball, a 7 foot small forward with a freakish wingspan and the grace and skill of a guard, with more ways to score than anyone playing the game today. Conversely, he’s still a work-in-progress as a rebounder and a defender, not to mention a kid who most opposing scouting reports consider a liability as a passer.
Point is, it’s easy to get swept away by his greatness, but he’s simply not (nor is his team) a finished product yet. But when he is, the rest of the league better watch out.
Now that I’ve got that of my chest…
Let’s talk about Sam Presti. The way he’s put this team together should serve as a blueprint for any GM who is looking to build a team around a young star player, or the exact opposite of what Danny Ferry did with LeBron in Cleveland. His plan was thorough: Blow the team up by trading your “stars” for draft picks. Idenitfy the chemistry guys worth keeping. Accumulate a nucleus of young talent and let them grow together, even if they have to take their lumps for a few years.
So far, everything has worked out in grand fashion, with the team built around the star trio of Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, all of whom are under 25, and the majority of the roster are young guys still playing on their rookie contracts or veterans who’s deal expire after this season. In other words, everyone on this team should be motivated, and Presti has the financial flexibility to re-sign his young stars and go get the the right guys to put next to them. Seriously, you could not have a brighter future than this team does.
The key word being FUTURE.
In the present tense, it’s a team coming a 50 win season and looking for more, with a strong foundation but a ways to go with the supporting cast, most notably on the bench and up front.
The shooting guard spot is basically an offense/defense platoon in the Baseball mold: Thabo Sefolosha is the starter, and is one of the anchors of the defense that took the league by storm last year, (which was really the key to this teams’ emergence) and James Harden comes off the bench to bomb away from deep and give the team some points.
Ditto for the Center spot, where Nenad Krrstic’s comb-over can be counted on to get a handful of buckets on fade-aways and short jump shots while the fast evolving Serge Ibaka provides an athletic presence on defense and an improving offensive game around the basket.
Other than that, there isn’t much on the bench. Eric maynor is a solid back-up point guard, Daequan Cook is a shoot-first, shoot-second (shoot third) gunner, and Nick Collison is the rugged, blue-collat type veteran that is more valuable on good teams than bad ones.
Either way, who plays on this team is likely going to be dictated by defensive effort, as in you’ll play if you make it. Sucks to be Daequan Cook, in other words.
Bottom line is, OKC plays in the Western Conference, where the Lakers are a virtual lock to be waiting and everyone else is battling to meet them. And yes, this team has as good a chance as anyone to meet them, but they have some work to do if they want to get past LA.
In other words, I think they’ll be a good bet to get there, just not this year.
IF THEY GET LUCKY: honestly, the die-hard Laker fan in me doesn’t even want to think about it.
Seriously though, it won’t require much luck, only maturation and continued hard work, and Durant is already well-known in league circles as a man who does not lack for passion or work ethic. Likewise, Presti knows what he’s doing, and if he pulls off a big deal with some of his young guys and expiring contracts, it won’t be luck either.
IF THEY DONT: Geez, it’s gonna take something downright catastrophic to derail this team. Basically, if you see a headline in the next sixth months featuring Durant’s name next to any of the follwing 3 letter combinations: MCL, ACL, PCL, FBI, MIA.
REALITY: Short of a serious injury, these guys will be in the mix for the top spot in the West, and though it’s tough to predict playoff results right now, I’d say they have a good shot at making it a ways unless they run into a really bad matchup.
(NEVERMIND THE THUNDER BONUS) HERE’S THE SONICS!)
Seriously, it’s the least I can do for the poor people of Seattle.
THE REAL X-MAN
Ask Wes Matthews (father of Wesley) who Xavier McDaniel was.
McDaniel, equal parts star player and dirty punk, was beloved in Seattle as a mainstay of the late 80’s Sonic teams, averaging over 20 points (and 3 dirty picks) a game in his five year span, and wasn’t above choking a motherfucker if he needed to.
The X man backed down from nobody, and wasn’t afraid to go after the likes of Michael Jordan AND Larry Bird when necessary.
After enjoying a brief stint as Pat Riley’s designated thug (and Scottie Pippen tormentor) on the 1992 Knicks, McDaniel kicked around for another five years before retiring in 1998.
Oh, and X had one of the greatest movie cameos by an athlete ever in the 1992 Cameron Crowe film “Singles”.