What's at stake for Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant in the Western Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.
In his fourth year, Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder keep on skipping along at a steady 45 degree angle towards greatness.
Year 1: Rookie of the Year. Year 2: Blossoming star. Year 3: All-Star and scoring champ. Year 4: All-Star, scoring champ, playoff scoring leader.
Year 1: An ugly final year in Seattle. Year 2: A fresh start in Oklahoma City. Year 3: Playoffs. Year 4: Northwest Division title and Western Conference finals.
For the rest of the league's lottery teams and those trapped in an arguably worse fate -- stuck being average -- the rocketship rags to riches rise of Durant and the Thunder is enough to inspire envy, rage and a whole host of other negative emotions. For everyone else, it's just been jaw-dropping. So good, so fast. So much playoff success seemingly overnight. One can only imagine how much attention Durant's meteoric rise would receive had it not been for Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, who has accomplishing virtually the same thing but happens to play in a much larger market.
But that's exactly why K.D. has the best of both worlds here. More than anyone else left in the playoffs, Durant gets to enjoy the fruits of his labors without all of the annoying questions and expectations that generally go hand-in-hand with being a superstar in the postseason. Rose, by virtue of being named MVP, playing with a more experienced core and facing off against the Evil Empire that the Miami Heat represent, carries a much heavier expectations burden. He's, essentially, savior rather than upstart. As for the Heat? They must win or their reputation is ruined (at least for the next 12 months). And the Dallas Mavericks must win or they might not get another shot due to age.
Certainly, the Thunder's deep playoff run didn't come out of nowhere, but only a microscopic percentage of the basketball viewing public will be disappointed or feel let down if Durant isn't able to carry Oklahoma City past the Mavericks and into the NBA Finals. Yes, there would have been some second-guessers if the Thunder had been knocked out by a No. 8 seed. But that didn't happen. Sunday's Game 7 assured the Thunder that there season was a wild success and Durant's closeout performances in both rounds prove he can deliver when it matters most. This year is set.
The future is set up nicely too, further removing any urgency from the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder's championship window is as wide open as Kendrick Perkins when he turns to face the basket at the top of the key. Oklahoma City can and should be making deep playoff runs -- at minimum -- for the next five years, the duration of Durant's contract extension.
With the Thunder, unlike so many other teams, that statement comes with no caveat about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Durant, Russell Westbrook, Perkins and Nick Collison are all locked in for the foreseeable future, and plenty of other contributors are still on rookie deals too. TOklahoma City is positioned as well as a team can be heading into labor uncertainty: They have a dynamic, do-everything point guard, they have the premier scorer in the game and they have depth in the middle. All the tough questions have been answered. The rest is just roster tweaking, and GM Sam Presti has proven he's up to that task.
For Durant and company, the Western Conference finals against the Mavericks represent simply the first of many showdowns and shootouts. Worst case scenario: They get picked apart by a more experienced team that just picked apart the defending champs. But, in the process, they'll gain valuable big-moment playoff reps. Best case scenario: Their athleticism and fearlessness is too much for the Mavericks to handle, and the dream season continues for another round, reaching impossible heights.
Either way, Durant wins. Here, clearly, he has nothing to lose.
What's At Stake: Kevin Durant
Posted on: May 16, 2011 4:47 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 4:58 pm
Tags: 2011 Conference Finals, 2011 Mavericks-Thunder, 2011 NBA Playoffs, 2011 Thunder-Mavericks, 2011 WC Conference Finals, 2011 WC Playoffs, Conference Finals, Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Mark Cuban, Mavericks-Thunder, NBA Playoffs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Rick Carisle, Russell Westbrook, Scottie Brooks, Serge Ibaka, Shawn Marion, Thunder-Mavericks, WC Conference Finals