To be an incredible NBA scorer who, frankly, isn't the biggest contributor in other facets of the game is sometimes a burden. Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league, an exclamation mark in the flesh who combines rare efficiency with superstar usage to basically reanimate Michael Jordan in results, if not -- definitely not -- style. Only Jordan was one of the best defenders of his era (and the best at his position), and a great rebounder and passer. Kevin Durant is ... a really, really amazing scorer. We'll leave it at that.
This is where some of these other elite scorers run into trouble. Tracy McGrady had legit basketball minds tossing "Meh" at a young Kobe Bryant -- that's how good early T-Mac was. McGrady was also a pretty incredible passer, though, but couldn't find the right supporting cast or coach, frankly, to get over the first-round hump. His reputation and, some would say, self-confidence struggled because of it. Mid-career Kobe was similar, after Shaq and before Pau. What good was all of the scoring if it couldn't advance the team in the postseason?
If it's a burden for Durant, it doesn't show. Having a co-star like Russell Westbrook and a coach as plugged into the team dynamic and personality as Scott Brooks surely helps. And that's what this series -- the Oklahoma City Thunder's 3-0 lead over the Denver Nuggets -- is about as much as anything else. The Thunder has stars who work within the system. The Nuggets had a star, but he didn't mesh with the system, and he left, and the system survived, but now it needs a new star. Kevin Durant may not be the world's best defender, but he plays more defense for Brooks than Carmelo Anthony did for George Karl.
So Denver figured something out, that the 'Melo thing wasn't going to work, but that the system was pretty good, that Karl is a fantastic coach. But it took losing 'Melo to get that evidence, and unfortunately, the Nuggets didn't exactly get a future superstar or a shot at future superstars in the swap. The Nuggets got solid pieces to plug into the system, players who can produce now but won't ever really replicate Anthony's singular on-court presence. But now they need a star, preferably one more like Durant than 'Melo. And, as any number of teams in the lottery can tell you, that's a tall task, a bit of fortune mixed with luck and destiny.
So instead of a classic series, it appears we're getting a lesson in the power of The Star in the NBA, and a reminder that while trading a star may be the only course of action for whatever reason(s), it's still a crummy thing to have to do. If the Thunder vanquish the Nuggets for good (and by "for good" I mean "for the 2010-11 season"), it won't be a victory for 'Melo, but it won't be a victory for Denver either. While that seems obvious, the strain of anti-star fervor that accompanied Anthony's fall from grace might have made enough people forget that when 'Melo was in town, the team got a bit further than this.