I want to beat everyone to it — Kevin Durant isn’t better than Lebron James. I can see the stories coming already if Durant wins a title before James. I can see the internet bursting out of control with some nonsense about how Durant has some kind of extra winningness that James doesn’t possess. I just know it. The story writes itself. The story is bullshit.
I’m pre-calling everyone out. This may be a first for me.
James has never played for a team as good as as the Thunder, and that has nothing to do with him personally. It is hard to hold him accountable for an unevenly constructed Heat team where the only other players who aren’t garbage are injured (Bosh) or injured/getting old (Wade). I honestly believe the Lebron’s 2008-2009 Cavs would absolutely destroy this year’s Heat team (as it is now in its unhealthy state), and that was a team that clearly wasn’t good enough to win a title. That was a team everyone excused away as “Lebron not having enough help.”
Well, things aren’t better for him this year team-wise, but as an individual, he has played absolutely out of his mind. Switch Lebron and Durant, and I think the Spurs-Thunder series is already over in five (in favor of the Thunder). Switch Lebron and Durant, and the Thunder suddenly impose their will defensively in a way we haven’t seen them play yet. Switch Lebron and Durant, and there is no longer a question about which player is better.
This isn’t a knock against Durant. I love watching him play. You can pick your poison over who is the second best player in the NBA – Durant or Dwight Howard. I just don’t think it is a contest yet for first best – it is still Lebron. He is most likely going to drag the corpse of the Heat into the Finals, and that is a very real accomplishment given the lack of health and depth on his team.
The worst part of this future-narrative will not even be unfairly ripping apart Lebron. I’m a Cleveland fan. I am ALL for ripping apart Lebron — even to an irrational extent. The worst part will be how much we downplay the importance of full, deep teams yet again. The true crime is making championship wins and losses about one player — the best player. It’s not.
When you are a top five player in the NBA, it is rarely about the individual. That is only a factor if two teams are basically even. Too little is made of well constructed, deep teams. Look at the list of NBA Champions for the last ten years. Look even further past that. Almost all of these teams had depth and function. Slapping together three great players and surrounding them with scrubs is a dangerous game. We are seeing that in these playoffs. It should be obvious once the Heat inevitably do not win the Finals.
But if the Thunder are the team that happen to go on to win, it isn’t because Durant is better than James. It is because Durant is amazing, and he happens to have a fantastically constructed team around him. James is amazing, and his team wasn’t built all that well. That is all there is to it.