By CJ DONALD – COLUMNIST
I am a fan of basketball because of the sport’s innate beauty. My motivation for keeping up with the National Basketball Association (NBA) is intrinsic; the Association’s watchability is not based on whether my hometown team wins or loses.
I enjoy following the sport even when my favorite players get injured, suspended, or change teams.
To me, basketball means more than the points on the scoreboard or the number of wins chronicled in record books.
Basketball is about the beauty of the game: it’s about the sheer magnificence of putting an orange ball through an 18-inch metal rim.
This is one of the reasons why I think that Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is healthy for the NBA.
I am convinced that his style of play and passion for the game are positive things. His basketball knowledge is vast, his strength incredible, and his movements are fluid. He is a special type of basketball player.
That being said, although it pains me very much, it is true that Kevin Durant will never stop LeBron James’ reign.
I am not convinced that the Miami Heat will win their third straight NBA Championship this year, but I am convinced that, if the Miami Heat are stopped, it will not be by Kevin Durant. Here’s why:
1. The Miami Heat have a great coaching staff. This is a secret to no one.
It takes administrative talent of the highest order to make superstars play together at both ends of the court. Good coaches know how to teach basketball in a way that is fun and enjoyable for their players.
Coaches have to figure out how to push a team through a grueling 82-game regular season and make it out alive. Erik Spoelstra has all of these skills down pat.
Spoelstra is a brilliant basketball mind and knows how to get the best out of his team.
Many folks laugh at this. Miami’s coaching is not good, some say. They argue that the Miami Heat cheated the system by wrangling together three of the game’s superstars.
To those folks I would say three things.
First, I would point out that courting free agents is a part of the business. Many people spend their free time villainizing Lebron and the Miami Heat simply out of jealously and irrational hate.
Second, Dwayne Wade is 31 years old. While he is still a great player, he is, admittedly, a shadow of his former self.
Third, Chris Bosh is, on most nights, a terrible and inconsistent contributor to the Miami Heat team.
When people reference the top three men on the Miami Heat payroll as “The Big Three,” I am often filled with consternation as I try to uncover who the third superstar truly is. For this reason, it is amazing that Spoelstra is able to get positive contributions on a semi-regular basis from Wade and Bosh.
During the last NBA Finals, it seemed that Wade was being beat up nightly and that Bosh had resolved to be as uninvolved as possible. Somehow, Spoelstra coached The Heat to victory.
2. Sam Presti is cheap. Presti, General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, declined to pay left-handed superstar James Harden more money to stay in Oklahoma City in 2012. Presti believed that paying Harden more money was asinine.
He argued that a bigger contract was unnecessary: Harden was just a sixth man. It can be said, though, that Harden was the backbone.
Without Harden, the Thunder would not have advanced as far as they did in 2011 or the year after.
Harden was the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and Presti refused to keep the talent and prolific scoring that Harden brought to the guard position.
So, when Russell Westbrook went down with a torn right lateral meniscus in April 2013, many basketball fans had a singular, but unfortunately correct sentiment directed at Presti: “We told you so…”
This off-season, while most of the League’s general managers reloaded with true free-agent talent, Presti chose to remain largely silent. There were no exciting changes for his team; they have chosen to see how far their current roster can take them.
The Thunder are fun to watch and have lots of unpolished talent but, at this point, if either Durant or Westbrook is injured, this Thunder team is no better than the average NBA team.
Sad to say, but I doubt that Durant could truly carry a team without Westbrook and I seriously doubt that Westbrook could do it without Durant.