The size of a healthy kidney bean. That’s how big the fractured bone on the side of Kevin Durant’s foot happens to be. If you really want to understand why KD is considered the consensus “choice 1a” in debates over who is the best player in the L, don’t start with his galactic shooting statistics. Don’t start with advanced analytics. Don’t start with what up until now has been his remarkable durability. Start with that two-inch bone at the base of his right pinky toe. Start by assessing the collective freak out that took place from Oklahoma City to Nike Headquarters to social media platforms across the planet when it was announced that Kevin Durant was going to miss the first eight and maybe 12 weeks of the season due to what’s called “a Jones Fracture” on the side of his foot. Given the thudding high impact of every vertical leap on a hardwood floor, healthy feet are as much an essential of a hoopster’s arsenal as ice skates are in hockey. If the feet go, the mightiest of careers can follow suit. Just ask Bill Walton. Just ask Yao Ming.
Kevin Durant, the still unbelievably young—26!—still-reaching-his-potential four-time scoring champion will need to heal, and there is not a person on the planet who will rush him back even a day before every one of those 26 bones in his right foot are in perfect shape. That means KD could perhaps be looking at as little as a 50-game season. Fifty games to defend his MVP award. Fifty games to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder, who true to form did nothing to fortify their team in the offseason, back to the Playoffs. Fifty games to put his mark on the 2014-15 season. Such is the power and promise of Kevin Durant that many of us still have the OKC Thunder making it to the NBA Finals. This is a league where, Spurs aside, you always want your money on the playoff team with the best player. And there is no one with a working brain who would argue that the best player in the Western Conference—if not the world—resides in Oklahoma City.
How potent is the promise of Kevin Durant? It is so intense that for several days this offseason, he turned Washington, DC, the capital of these United States and perch of global power, into Cleveland. When King James declared his intention to take his talents back to northeast Ohio, the question was naturally posed to the acknowledged second best player on the planet about whether he would also like to make the journey home to the DC, Maryland and Virginia area when he became a free agent in 2016. Durant, who received over-the top—borderline nauseating—praise by the establishment press for re-signing with small-market Oklahoma City in 2010 with neither delay nor fanfare, was asked about Bron’s journey home and said, “I thought it was well thought out, it was classy. It’s fun to see a guy think about more than just basketball for once, and himself. … He thought about the city where he comes from, northeast Ohio, and how he could affect so many kids bigger than basketball. I love that. … So many guys get criticized for making a decision, what’s best for them, instead of what’s best for everybody else and here was a guy that did that and you’ve got to respect him. I applauded him. I texted him and told him congratulations on that decision and I was happy for him.”
Before you could say, “We are All Cleveland Now,” the DC hoops world, from the barbershops, to the Wizards front office, to the open yearnings of John Wall, began what will be a two-year campaign for KD to also come home. Durant tried to walk it back, but every time he does something like tweeting a picture from his hospital bed, snuggling under a DC football comforter, the chatter begins anew throughout the DMV.
Unlike the Cavs, DC was hardly a hoops wasteland in 2014. The Wizards looked like the best young team in the Eastern Conference. Led by the Wall/Bradley Beal backcourt and a front office that actually signs quality players in the offseason, this is a time of high hopes in the DMV. Yet such is the strength of Kevin Durant’s skill set that the high expectations that have been placed on the current Wizards roster are simply not enough to hold the unabashed desire for his homecoming at bay. This yearning is rooted in a very simple fact: Superstars win Championships in this league. Not just Hall of Famers. Superstars. Barring injury, it is a metaphysical certainty that Kevin Durant will win a Championship somewhere. Wall and Beal—as beloved as they are—carry no such guarantees.
DC hasn’t seen a title since before David Stern’s first year as commish, since before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s rookie year, since before the NBA as we know it even existed. If DC has even a whisper of a chance to land their best local basketball product since Elgin Baylor, every effort, every salary move, every chess piece on the board, will be moved to make that a reality. Kevin Durant says that he is loyal to the Thunder. But he’s also the guy who regularly goes down to Barry Farm in Southeast DC to play some hoop and see the people. His people. KD in DC? Feels like destiny. And that’s why no one in this town will be sad to see Durant miss as many games as he needs to this season to get his foot in perfect working order. We want him healthy when he makes the journey home.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.