2016 has been a year of fresh starts in the NBA. The most notable? The Cleveland Cavaliers got their fresh start by finally ending a 52 year championship drought in the 4 major professional sports. The city of Cleveland finally got to celebrate a title, but will they live to regret it?
LeBron James is perhaps the most polarizing player in the NBA. Love him or hate him, any fan of professional basketball must respect the influence that he has on the sport. However, he may have influenced the future of professional basketball in a way that hurts his career. By finally breaking through and bringing a title back to his home city of Cleveland, he opened a pandora’s box in the mad dash for title glory.
Enter Kevin Durant, the 27 year-old former University of Texas standout who has now been in The Association for 9 years. An outstanding player in his own right, KD’s career has been overshadowed by the polarizing popularity and success of LeBron James. Despite an MVP award in 2014, he has mostly played second fiddle to LeBron in nearly every category. With James now having claimed his 3rd title, Durant woke up to a harsh reality. His career, for all intents and purposes, is halfway done, and he has no rings to show for it. As it just so happens, Kevin’s 5-year, $89 million dollar back-loaded contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder that he signed in 2011 has just expired. Needless to say, Kevin went where the rings are.
Having now bolted to Oakland to join the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant leaves his former partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, out to dry in Oklahoma City with only 1 year remaining on his current contract. Now in rebuilding mode, the Thunder’s front office along with GM Sam Presti decided to move Russell Westbrook after he declined to sign a long-term contract extension with OKC. This series of events begs the question: Where will Russell Westbrook suit up next season?
MY PREDICTION: The Orlando Magic
Reason One: The Orlando Magic have little support at Point Guard, a position that the team seems to have neglected after the Thunder sent Serge Ibaka to the Magic in late June with a multi-player deal. The presumed starter at the point for the Magic is Elfrid Payton, who has been less than impressive in his two years in the league, averaging just under 10 p0ints and 7 assists per game.
Reason Two: New Head Coach Frank Vogel (formerly of the Indiana Pacers) is seeking a fresh start after being relieved of his duties by Pacer’s GM Larry Bird, citing the annually decreasing offensive production from Vogel’s teams over the past several seasons. Vogel vows to reinvent the way he sees the offensive side of the floor, pledging to play “…small ball…” and to “…use our athleticism…” Both of those plans of Vogel’s would have a greatly increased chance of coming to fruition with the addition of Westbrook, who is widely regarded as one of the more athletic players in the league.
Wherever Russell Westbrook ends up, he will have his work cut out for him in order to reach the level of performance that he was able to sustain alongside former teammate Kevin Durant. The Thunder are looking to move Russell, and don’t be shocked if he re-joins another former teammate of his in Serge Ibaka in Orlando.