Evan Turner's recent tirade on the Kevin Durant-era Warriors, delivered during an episode of his "Point Forward" podcast with Golden State player Andre Igoudala, made some waves in the basketball blogosphere. If you missed it, Turner basically said the Warriors' title runs with Durant were pretty lame, calling Kevin Durant's rings into question. Well, in fact he said they were "lame as f—-."
"There were just certain points where it seemed unfair. ... I'm not knocking it but at the same time I'm still playing against Andre Igoudala, [Wardell Stephen Curry], Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and whoever else. That's like playing versus MJ, fool. It still don't make no sense. It doesn't justify anything. And y'all won a lot of championships but it was lame as f—-."
Quick digression: I think every Golden State basketball player should start a podcast. We've got enough basketball podcasts, though, so it's time to branch out. Interested in planning the perfect summer get-together? Check out "Poole Party" with Jordan Poole! Wanna learn how to win at life? Check out "DiVictorious" with Donte DiVincenzo. Just wanna riff about your favorite Looney Tunes? Check out "Looney Tunes" with Kevon Looney. Why not explore global cuisine by tuning into "Hot Curry" with Steph Curry?
Back on track: Turner's comments bring up the perfect opportunity to ask one of the most controversial questions, and re-litigate one of the most litigated questions in recent NBA history: How many rings does Kevin Durant have? And do Kevin Durant's NBA Championship Rings count?
How Did We Get Here?
If you'll indulge in a walk down memory lane, let's reminisce briefly about the Durant free agent sweepstakes of 2016. After, nine years with the Oklahoma City Thunder — including seven All-Star selections, an NBA Finals appearance and an MVP award in 2014 — and one year with the Seattle Supersonics, the team that selected him second-overall in the 2007 NBA Draft and where he won 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, Durant was considering a move in the offseason. The former teammate of Russell Westbrook holed up in a mansion in Long Island and took meetings with six teams: the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Celtics, Heat and Warriors.
As a Celtics fan, I was very invested in the whole ordeal. Boston brass had made its way to the Hamptons to meet with Durant, bringing along Tom Brady to impress upon KD the championship pedigree of New England. David Ortiz tweeted. Julian Edelman sent out this thirst trappy picture:
— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) July 3, 2016
When Al Horford joined the Celtics, it looked as if maybe Boston actually had a chance to land Durant. Group chat debates were already starting about who was better, Larry Legend or KD?
The Clippers and Spurs never felt like real contenders; and even though the Heat have a tradition of bringing superstars to South Beach, Miami felt like a long shot. Staying in Oklahoma City felt like the most logical choice, really. The Thunder had just held a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The only reason they didn't make the Finals that season was because Klay Thompson went absolutely nuclear in Game 6, hitting 11 3-pointers en route to 41 points.
The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs never felt like real contenders; and even though the Miami Heat have a tradition of bringing superstar NBA players to South Beach, the Heat felt like a long shot. Staying in Oklahoma City felt like the most logical choice, really. The Thunder had just held a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The only reason they didn't make the Finals that season was that Klay Thompson went absolutely nuclear in Game 6, hitting 11 3-pointers en route to 41 points.
We all know what happened next. The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals against LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. Draymond Green recruited Durant to join the Warriors. Steve Kerr sold him on a brand of selfless basketball, replete with unparalleled shooting and ball movement. And Durant signed with the team that had just gone 73-9 and bounced him from the playoffs. It was the all-time "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" move.
The success was immediate. They started the 2016-17 season 16-2 on the way to a 67-15 regular season record. They swept the Western Conference in the playoffs, and they pulled out the gentleman's sweep of Cleveland in the NBA Finals, going 16-1 in the postseason. They were an unstoppable force, an All-Star team. This was the first ring Kevin Durant won, but it would not be the last.
2017-18 was a bit dicier than many remember. The James Harden and Chris Paul Rockets actually had a better regular season record than the Dubs, and they held a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. But Paul got injured during the series and missed the last two games, which Golden State was able to handle. The Finals were a no-contest. After J.R. Smith famously lost track of the score during Game 1 (that highlight still makes me sick) — squandering what was probably the most impressive single-game performance of LeBron's career — the Cavs were cooked and lost four straight. Kevin Wayne Durant's second NBA title was secured.
The only thing that could stop those Warriors was injury. Both Durant and Thompson got hurt during the 2019 NBA Finals, essentially ending the Warriors' run. But, after all three years of playing on a pseudo-Olympic Dream Team, Kevin Durant had won his two NBA Championship rings.
Kevin Durant's Complicated Legacy
If the Washington D.C. star's career ended today — and let's hope it doesn't, because he's a truly marvelous player to watch — he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, no doubt about it. For my money, he's the best scorer in the last 20 years of the NBA, even if he sputters out with the Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. At his peak, he could get any shot anytime he wanted it. Defensively, he used his length and quickness to bother shots at the rim and get in the passing lanes, particularly when he joined Golden State.
But do his titles "count"?
The argument against: He joined a team that had already won a championship AND broke the league record for wins in a season. By a lot of measures, the Warriors were already the best team in the NBA in 2016. AND THEN THEY GOT KEVIN DURANT. It felt like cheating. Or, to quote the sage words of Evan Turner, "it was lame as f—-." To those fans who subscribe to this, when asked "how many rings does Kevin Durant have?" the answer is clear.
Now, if Durant just joined Golden State and just stood in the corner and spotted up for threes, this would not even be a debate. The titles would not count, he'd be considered a total joiner, and we'd move on to debate something else, such as "Is James Harden the most overrated player of all time?" or "If Russell Westbrooks' rebounds and assists are the only offensive production on a terrible team does his triple-double streak matter?"
But Durant was named NBA Finals MVP — two years in a row! At the biggest stage in the biggest moments, Durant was the best player on the court, and and walked away with two Finals MVP Awards. That should count for something.
There is a difference in the way we perceive the Warriors' titles with Durant and other championships over the last few decades. Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 stand out where a franchise player stayed with the same team for his entire career until they managed to get over the hump and win a title. They seem to mean more in our collective NBA memory. You don't even have to leave Golden State to make that comparison — for a lot of people, its titles in 2015 and 2022 felt like more impressive and earned accomplishments than either of the super team titles.
Maybe joining Golden State in 2016 was lame. For most non-Warriors fans, it would've been exciting to see Durant run it back with a slightly retooled OKC and try to take out the Warriors. That mythic OKC Thunder team was one season away from a historic NBA playoff run. But we'll never truly know as Harden, Ibaka, Westbrook and Durant all scattered in the winds of free agency.
But in the biggest moments — the NBA Finals and Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals — Durant was the best player on the court. You can say the same thing about Michael Jordan, about Lakers greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. That, to me, makes the titles count.
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