Kevin Durant's Rings: Earned or Concerned?

Are the Warriors really too good to have KD’s rings count?

The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of one of the greatest runs in sports history. By closing out the Trail Blazers in a sweep on Monday, the Warriors reached their fifth straight NBA Finals. This dynasty is perhaps the most dominant in recent sports memory because of their consistent habitual success. The Bill Russell Celtics teams from the 1960s are the only other NBA team to ever reach at least five straight NBA Finals. Due to their dominance, the Warriors will have a comfortable nine days off until the Finals begin on May 30th. 

Despite coasting through the playoffs so far, the Warriors have questions going into the Finals with regards to the injuries they have sustained. The availability of Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kevin Durant remains uncertain going into the final round of the postseason. Durant was injured towards the end of the Rockets-Warriors series and never took the floor for Golden State’s subsequent bouts against the Blazers. The Warriors cruised through their series with Portland due to explosive offense from Steph Curry and exceptional defense from Draymond Green. Their excellence in that series has one question on most people’s minds going into the Finals: If Durant does not come back this postseason and the Warriors win the title this year, does it diminish Durant’s rings in Golden State and his overall legacy?

Side 1: Yes, there will be a tarnish on his rings in Golden State

We all know the uproar that was caused when Durant bolted from Oklahoma City for the Warriors back in the summer of 2016. A few people praised the move, but many people criticized it. For the sake of debate, let’s leave emotion out of this question and stick to the facts. Whether you agree or disagree with his decision, we can’t change what’s happened since he left the Thunder. In the first two seasons since then, Durant has captured two rings and two Finals MVPs. 

With the drama in Los Angeles this year and the Lakers missing the playoffs, the door has been opened for a debate about who is the best player in the world; for the first time in about 10 years, LeBron is no longer the automatic answer, and some will tell you that it’s Kevin Durant. The fact that the Warriors just swept a conference finals series without arguably the best player in the world is just about all you need to know to agree with this side of the debate. With Durant, the Warriors are arguably the most talented team in NBA history. To say that his legacy will be tarnished, we have to look at what the Warriors have done without him, thus proving that his accomplishments and rings will be viewed with an asterisk. The Warriors, without KD, won a title with the same core of players back in 2015. The next year, Curry was the league’s first unanimous MVP while the Warriors won an NBA record 73 games. They lost the title that year in 7 games due to a herculean effort from LeBron James. Durant then joined that 73 win team in the offseason.

Speaking of what the Warriors have done without KD, they’ve also gone an insane 30-1 in their last 31 games without the superstar when Curry plays. They’ve shown they can sustain high levels of success without him, even in the last week or two. Back in 2016, a popular debate was the 2016 Warriors versus the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Warriors were already considered one of the best teams of all time before KD joined. Once he joined, the team went from great to simply unstoppable. They have not lost a series in the three postseasons since he has joined the squad. The Warriors are safely in the Finals this year. If KD does not return and the Warriors win the championship this year, many people will start to question the legitimacy of KD’s rings with Golden State. Sure, he has played well and shown up in big games for the Warriors, but due to the Warriors’ championship and record-breaking seasons before he joined, Durant’s rings have always been questioned. If the Warriors win the NBA title this year without KD, the rings that he has won will be stained.

Side 2: No, Durant’s accomplishments in Golden State are not illegitimate

First of all, the Warriors winning the championship is far from a guarantee this year. Whoever represents the East this year, the Bucks or the Raptors, will certainly present a formidable challenge to the reigning champs. In fact, in the most recent episode of Last Second Covers, I am on record saying the Bucks will beat the Warriors in seven games, if that indeed turns out to be the Finals matchup. The difficult part about a debate like this is that it presents a factor of assumption. This debate focuses on two big ifs: IF the Warriors win the title and IF they win it without KD playing in the Finals. However, this is all for the sake of debate, and it seems increasingly day by day like this might in fact be the final outcome. Given all of that, let’s assume the Warriors win the Finals this year without the services of KD. His accomplishments in Golden State should not be questioned. 

To start, I will reference a point from the first argument: many people today are arguing KD as the best player in the world. The roots of the Durant vs. LeBron debate for best player in the world can be traced back to 2012, the year they met in the Finals for the first time. Since then, most would agree LeBron has dominated the last seven years or so. However, without LeBron in the playoffs this year, Durant was making a strong case as the best player on the planet before his injury. He was averaging a remarkable 34.2 PPG while slashing 51.3/41.6/90.1. When healthy, Durant’s impact on the Warriors can’t be questioned. He is a phenomenal two way player. 

As mentioned above, Durant has achieved two NBA Finals MVPs while with the Warriors. This is perhaps the biggest proof that Durant has genuinely earned his two rings. On a team that is loaded with talent, it has been Durant who has stepped up and stood out on the biggest stage in basketball, and he’s done it two years in a row. Finals MVPs do not simply fall into the lap of great players. They are earned. They represent the greatest performances at the highest level. Last season, Durant became only the seventh player in NBA history to win two or more Finals MVPs. He has averaged at least 28 PPG in every Warrior playoff run, the most on the team since he joined. People can criticize KD’s decision to join the Warriors but one thing can’t be debated since he joined the team: he has consistently performed at a high level in the biggest of moments, thus proving that even if the Warriors win the title without him this year, his rings and Finals MVPs were well earned. 

My Take

No one can take away what Durant has accomplished in his amazing career. He is a 2-time NBA champion, MVP, 4-time scoring champion and 10-time All-Star. When it’s all said and done, he may be viewed as the greatest scorer who ever lived. With that said, I will always discount KD’s rings. Even if he wins another one this year (whether he comes back or not), we will always know that the Warriors did not need him. He was a luxury, not a necessity. Durant made a controversial move and will always have to live with both the criticisms and accomplishments. He’s certainly been successful during his time in the Bay area but the Warriors success without him proves that his rings should be discounted when we look at his time in Golden State.

What do YOU think? Will Durant’s rings be looked down upon if the Warriors win it this year without him? Did Durant earn his two titles? (BONUS DEBATE: Who is more valuable to the Warriors, Steph or KD?) Sound off below!

NBA expert and IU grad. '96 Bulls > Warriors. #FireGarPax