Everyone always has that friend. The “what if” friend. The one who states how different everything would be if something went different with their favorite sports teams, and nobody can technically disprove their points because everything they’re saying takes place in a hypothetical timeline where the Jets stop Ben Roethlisberger on 4th and 4 in the AFC Championship Game or Mariano Rivera closes out the Red Sox in 2004 or Trent Dilfer was actually good (ok nobody argues this but you get my point). So, your comeback becomes, “yeah but it didn’t happen so who really cares?” These blogs are dedicated to that What If Friend. As a victim of obscenely bad sports luck, I am usually that friend. So, this is for us.
What If Kevin Durant Never Left OKC?
The big one and probably the biggest hypothetical in recent sports memory. There’s a lot of natural places to start with this one, such as the CBA being negotiated differently, OKC doesn’t get a couple of horrible injuries in crucial times, Steph Curry being on the most affordable superstar contract in history thanks to ankle issues, and Klay Thompson not going berserk in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Hell, I could even start with, “What if Draymond Green doesn’t call KD whilst sobbing in his car after LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love whooped them after surrendering a 3-1 lead?” or “What if Kevin Love, noted bad defender, doesn’t lock up (an admittedly hobbled) Steph Curry with the game on the line in Game 7?” But let’s start with the decision.
Let’s say that the infamous dinner between Russell Westbrook and Durant goes well, and KD has a positive response to Westbrook asking him, “How can I change?” Durant decides to re-up with OKC on a 3 year deal with a player option in year 3. What happens next?
Durant flies out with Westbrook to recruit Al Horford (who wanted to be on OKC if KD were to stay, that’s not rewriting history that’s just what happened), and succeed. The Thunder run out a starting five of Westbrook, Durant, Roberson, Horford, and Steven Adams, with Victor Oladipo coming off the bench to run the backup units (and ultimately close games in place of Roberson). Golden State, on the other hand, doesn’t sign Durant. So, they still let Harrison Barnes go to the Mavs on his contract and release/trade Andrew Bogut. However, instead of Durant, say they signed Nic Batum and Pau Gasol instead. The 73 win Warriors team runs out a starting 5 of Curry, Thompson, Batum, Green, and Gasol.
Realistically, this leads to another Western Conference Finals between OKC and Golden State. In one example, Oklahoma City wins the series and eventually the title, thus erasing memories of what could have been without the Harden Trade. But, in this hypothetical-ception, what if they lose? Say the relationship between Durant and Westbrook is really that troublesome and Westbrook enters free agency with the LA Lakers waiting in the wings. I still think he would run it back for another season and then enter free agency in 2018. But, does Westbrook leave OKC for LA and possibly fast-track a Westbrook-Paul George-LeBron Lakers team? Also, this probably guarantees Lonzo Ball doesn’t become a Laker. Does Lavar hold Lonzo out of the league, make him go back to UCLA and tank his draft stock intentionally just so Lonzo gets drafted later to his beloved Lakers? Does Presti make the move for Paul George and get RW back leading to a George-Westbrook-Durant-Horford-Adams starting 5? The possibilities are endless.
Well, that was fun. I didn’t think of that many alternate timelines in which Westbrook becomes a Laker and Lonzo Ball tanks a season at UCLA to destroy his own draft stock. I always assumed it would just be OKC winning the title and that was the end of that, but as I was writing the possibilities just overwhelmed me. But, I enjoyed this and we’ll do this again some time, maybe with a few less timelines.
If you have any suggestions for “What If?” holler at me on Twitter @oh_my_gos.