As the NBA season draws closer, the chatter of the offseason is more and more coming into the spotlight with more people paying attention to who said what during the long dog days of summer between the Finals and the upcoming season previews.
In that vein, MSG Network New York Knicks broadcaster and former Knicks great Walt “Clyde” Frazier dropped a bombshell Wednesday, giving his opinion on the mercenary mentality that has been the NBA’s dominant theme in the past decade, ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen went ring-chasing in Boston way back in the 2007-08 season.
Specifically, Frazier called for an “asterisk” to be placed next to Kevin Durant’s name, calling into question the legitimacy of the Golden State Warriors’ 2016 free agent signing and his role in their championships in 2017 and ’18.
Durant was Finals MVP in both of those series, in which the Warriors defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers by a combined eight games to one, with Game 4 of the 2017 Finals serving as a spoiler in what had to that point been 15 playoff wins without defeat for Golden State in their efforts to run the table.
Speaking to SiriusXM NBA Radio, Frazier weighed in.
“Durant, I mean, as great a player as he is, I would still hold back because, man, he joined a team that really didn’t need him. You know what I mean?” said Frazier. “He’s right there with LeBron, probably will surpass LeBron as the best player in the game soon. But for him doing that, I still don’t give him the full credit that he probably would have deserved if he stayed with [the Oklahoma City Thunder] and won a title with that team.”
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) August 30, 2018
Which, for one thing, who’s saying Durant would have won anything in Oklahoma City? Russell Westbrook is an infamous stat hound who dishes what ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy calls “selfish assists,” gets himself out of position to chase rebounds and values triple-doubles over wins, all while being the worst 3-point volume shooter in NBA history. There’s a reason the Thunder never won anything during the five-year run between their first Finals appearance (in which the Miami Heat beat them in 2012) and the 2016 meltdown where they blew a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals to the team Durant ultimately joined.
But never mind that. The comparative merits of a team that won 55 games in 2016 with one of the best players on the planet and the one that won only eight fewer games the following year despite their All-Star being surrounded by a G-League roster is a story for another day.
Frazier was also asked whether he thought Durant’s mercenary ways kicked him down the list of all-time NBA greats, out of the conversation with guys like James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
“He’s going to be down the list for me because of that. There will be an asterisk by his name,” Frazier said with a laugh.
Lost in the “mercenary” conversation here is the fact that Durant took less money in order to go to Golden State. Between the Warriors’ salary cap considerations and the Thunder having at the time been able to offer Durant a mega-extension (albeit one that would have required a bit of noodling with years and dollar amounts so that Durant would qualify for the “supermax” contracts signed by the likes of Stephen Curry under the new collective bargaining agreement that took effect in 2016), Durant left tens of millions of dollars on the table to go chase a ring.
Which in turn also means that people who say players value money over winning instantly reverse course when a player takes less money to win. Which is it?
Frazier played back in an era when NBA teams had all the power in relationships with their players, and therefore the typical NBA career involved players organically team-building because they had literally no other choice.
Sometimes it worked; Bill Russell won 11 titles in 13 years in Boston, and Frazier himself is a two-time NBA champion.
But other times, great players languished on terrible franchises.
Would Pete Maravich be dinged today if he left a franchise as bad as the New Orleans Jazz were in the 1970s and took his talents to the Lakers or Warriors?
Durant put himself in the best position to win a championship, then punctuated it by being the best player on the most loaded team in sports in the games that mattered most.
Asterisk? He should get an exclamation point.
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