I’ll start off by saying I am much like the majority of Wizards fans who believed a few years ago that this summer, the summer of 2016 would be the return of Suitland’s own Kevin Durant to the District of Columbia. At the official mark of this summer – July 1st – Durant will have spent almost 10 years of his professional life playing for the only team he’s ever known, and he would peacefully depart Oklahoma City – a phenomenal basketball environment to anyone who is not kidding themselves – to join John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat and take the Wizards franchise further than they’ve been in almost 40 years.
Here at Hoop District we are as guilty as anyone with the columns we’ve written, the video posts we’ve done, the #KD2DC hashtags, the sharing of KD photoshops in a Wizards uniform, and – as I am guilty of doing so myself – inserting him into a make-believe lineup on my NBA2K Wizards’ teams.
But isn’t it amazing how different a few years later looks? For that matter, isn’t it amazing how just one NBA season can change the entire look of a franchise? In the summer of ’14 I was praising the acquisition of Paul Pierce and alluding to the fact that Pierce would serve as the bridge uniting Wizards fans to a new uncharted territory of free agent destination premiere, and the eventual welcoming of the Easy Money Sniper. Instead I suffered the cold water splash realization that Washington only got one year of “The Truth” and may have to settle on Joakim Noah as the prize of 2016 (not a fact, just a rumor.)
The first thing to come to grips with is the fact that Kevin Durant doesn’t owe DC anything. He doesn’t owe the fans here anything and any expectations of him coming here to “save” basketball in DC is a self-inflicted pipe dream. Sure, the media outlets used to talk about it being a possibility, that is of course until they decided to throw water on the faces of Wizards fans and now, DC is no longer even even mentioned as a possibility.
But if you are Kevin Durant, ask yourself a really good question…why exactly would you come back to the pressure of having to lead your hometown to the promised land…or die trying? Yes, LeBron did it, but that was after he took a 4 year break down in South Beach and removing all pressures of his so-called tainted legacy for not having a ring in the first place. After all, once you’ve got the first one, the pressure of having to win it all in the city you burned on national TV really isn’t nearly as bad as long as you give it your all…something no one could ever question LeBron about.
The thing about Durant is that he isn’t anything like LeBron and this isn’t that situation. He wasn’t drafted by the Wizards and unless you are going to give him grief for leaving Montrose Christian and not choosing to attend Howard University or American or George Washington or UDC, then it’s not apples to apples.
The only person that Kevin owes anything to is his mother and by all standards of how you’d want your own child to grow up to be in life (speaking as a father myself), KD has already fulfilled his obligation to the city he was born in. He’s a stand up young man, gives millions of his hard earned dollars to charity, gives time to kids and his foundation, and represents his mother and his family in public the way anyone would want from their kids. What else does he possibly owe anyone much less a fan base he’s never even played for?
Is that to say the Wizards did all they could to make a trip back to the place he was born more enticing? I think the answer to that is a much more complicated discussion.
They brought in Scott Brooks, the coach who took KD to a place he’s only been once in his career – the NBA Finals. Ernie and Tommy Shepard have built a young roster that has nine potential spots open this summer along with the cap flexibility to sign their up-and-coming star and John Wall’s backcourt mate Bradley Beal, and the space to get creative and bring in any potential friends Kevin may want to play with. They went out and hired one of Durant’s high school coaches. They built a team around a franchise superstar point guard, a pass-hungry young talent who could only soar having a scorer the likes of KD around him. The Wizards are even building a state-of-the-art training facility just miles away from where Kevin grew up.
So what is the problem you might ask? I honestly believe the negatives and the unknown outweigh the positives. I believe the Wizards kept Randy around too long and that stalled the development of Wall and Beal and to a much greater extent Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre, Jr. Yes, that means I think both Wall and Beal should be ahead of where they are now.
I believe that overall the organization has struggled for years to develop the talent they’ve drafted. And that hasn’t been a one or two-year problem, that’s a decade long issue that I’ve more than detailed in numerous posts on our site. Before I go on I do want to say that in the little I’ve witnessed both in person and in interviews with Scott Brooks, Otto and Oubre should be ecstatic with his hiring.
I believe that the GM in DC has had 14 years to build a consistent winner and when your track record is sub-.500 after more than a thousand games, you are subject to criticism by fans and more-so the players you are trying to persuade to come play for you. When you are pitching a top-5 talent in the league and the furthest you’ve gotten a team you’ve constructed is the 2nd round of the playoffs, it makes it extremely difficult to compete against Sam Presti who came from the San Antonio tree, Golden State’s Bob Myers who has a ring on his finger, Danny Ainge who has rings as a player and GM, Phil Jackson who is Phil Jackson, or R.C. Buford who is Sam Presti’s former boss and a multiple championship winner.
Who are you going to trust going to work for…guys who have the hardware to prove they know what they are doing, or the guy selling you that you are the piece he’s been missing for 14 years?
I will even challenge you to be honest with yourself and think of the pitch if you are Ernie. If you are Wizards managment, what is in your presentation? Are you picking up Kevin from Reagan airport and taking him to eat at Charlie Palmer’s for a delicious steak, followed up with a night out on the town at The Park or Shadow Room to be met by John, Brad and a slew of Redskins players? (That is his favorite NFL team for those living under a rock) Follow that up the next day with a trip to Nats Park to throw out the first pitch, have him and Bryce talk about what it’s like to have a fan base dream of having you play for them (looking at you Yankee fans). Just be honest with yourselves Wizards fans.
Ultimately, Durant would be coming home to have the weight of a city on his shoulders, and the weight of a 38-year NBA championship drought. Why even subject yourself to that when outside of Wall, Beal and Gortat you have a bunch of unknowns.
I honestly believe the decision for Durant as far as 2016 goes is a simple one. If I’m a family member or a member of Jay-Z’s Rock Nation Sports I’m telling Kevin to re-sign with OKC, get paid that additional $35 mil or whatever it is and continue to set your family up for generations to come. Then figure out where you want to play after giving it one more shot with the team you were one game away from facing LeBron’s Cavaliers with.
If you you are a Wizards fan and want to get pissed off at someone this summer when Kevin decides to stay in OKC or he goes to a team that is better built to compete for a championship, don’t take it out on a young man who has done nearly everything right since he left high school. Don’t fault a young man who overcame obstacle after obstacle to reach the pinnacle of his athletic career, all the while becoming a world-recognized philanthropic superstar at the same time. Don’t hate on a 27 year old who is chasing a dream he’s had since he was a child for believing he can do that in a city that doesn’t happen to be where he was born.
It hasn’t been easy and I’m scared shitless about what plan B, C or D is for the Washington Wizards this summer but I’ve come to grips with the fact that Kevin Durant isn’t coming to DC, and that’s okay. That’s okay because he will always be DC’s own before he belonged to anyone else. Just because you didn’t enjoy his highlights at National Christian Academy, Oak Hill or Montrose Christian isn’t his problem, but if you truly want to rep your city, then be proud of a kid who overcame a lot and continues to rep his city everywhere he goes whether you like the name on the front of his NBA jersey or not.
Disclaimer: If Durant does end up signing here I will never be happier to have been so completely wrong in my entire life.