Thursday, June 5, 2014

Six Degrees of Kevin Durant Comes Down to These NBA Finals Without Him

"The man that knows something knows that he knows nothing at all. Does it seem colder in your summer time and hotter in your fall?"

Lyric from: On and On from the album Baduizm
Written By: Erykah Badu and Jaborn Jamal
Performed By: Erykah Badu

Photo of Greg Oden courtesy of

Greg Oden may get a ring before Kevin Durant does.

How does that make you feel?

It's almost painful to consider, right?

Both players entered the league via the same draft class, the first and second picks respectively. One player having done so on the heels of an NCAA championship and felt like an NBA sure thing while the other seemed like a happy, likable kid who was talented enough to earn our votes of confidence on the road to his NBA future.

The former, that NBA sure thing, couldn’t even make his NBA debut until a full season after he was drafted because of injury and to say that he has played sparingly since would be putting it generously. As for the latter, his likability was on full display during his recent MVP acceptance speech, an honor that highlights just how talented Durant has been. This season he was otherworldly but, he will be watching from home now.

Oden, though, is still in the hunt with a team that is seeking the 3rd in a repeat of championships that began at Durant's expense in 2012. Oden, however, wasn't there for the first. And neither was Ray Allen.

Allen had one foot out the door in Boston then, having fallen out of love with the team that would not forsake all others, namely the younger Avery Bradley whose defensive gifts were deemed more appealing than an aging Ray Ray and his offensive steadiness. The "Allen comes off the bench" move single-handedly broke up the Celtics' happy home with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce seeking comfort in Brooklyn and Doc Rivers hoping to find that loving, coaching feeling in LA with the Clippers.

All three men and their teams would go on to have prominent roles in the run up to this Oden-Durant dichotomy, however, with neither the Nets nor the Clippers living up to their pre-season hype of being legit challengers to the throne. 

In fact, while we're pouring out a little to the dearly departed of this year's playoff run we should take a moment to honor Oden and Durant's fallen homies from the 2007 draft class-a cast of characters ranging from bit players to stars of their teams' hardwood shows. The list includes Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Jr. Conley Jr. having played Robin to Oden's Batman in route to their 2007 shining moment before becoming half of the tandem with Gasol in Memphis that made it to the Western Conference Finals last year, again at Durant's expense.

This year, however, the Spurs levied OKC's cost, led by their big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli with some timely help from a supportive bunch off the bench that includes a couple more of those 2007 boys-Marco Belinelli and Tiago Splitter. They'll all chip in to San Antonio's collective effort of stopping Miami's 3-peat in its tracks. They'll also be looking to avenge last year's shortfall, when they couldn't keep Miami from winning their 2nd straight title. If they're successful, the feat will earn Belinelli and Splitter a ring before Durant as well. 

No pity parties allowed here though. One need only look at the remaining list of names from that 2007 draft to know that an NBA career is not always promised, not even for the 60 most talented amateur players in any given year. And for the guys who do find success, the road is not always paved with gold. Sometimes a former number one pick has to fall donkey-backward into a championship ring.

And sometimes an MVP is just an MVP...until he's an MVP and an NBA champion.

LeBron James knows a thing about that. This year he may just have to settle for the latter. 

Who knows, maybe it will come down to another three-pointer from old Ray Ray. Once discarded from Seattle to make room for Durant and later relegated to the bench in a preference for defense over offense and now maybe thrice an NBA champion because sometimes a guy has to move around to see his legend be born. 

And sometimes a former number one pick can win his 5th ring in his 17th season with the team who showed him love right from the start. No matter how these Finals end, Tim Duncan's legendary status will be a forgone conclusion.

Let the NBA Finals begin.