Relying too much on Kevin Durant

Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

Kevin Durant and the Thunder are one loss away from an early playoff exit, and now the presumptive MVP is getting called out by his hometown paper. But OKC's problems run much deeper.

SB Nation 2014 NBA Playoff Bracket

The saddest press conference there ever was took place in 2007 when Dirk Nowitzki was awarded the Most Valuable Player award, just 10 days after his 67-win Mavericks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the We Believe Warriors.

Normally, the league's MVP is awarded the trophy before a playoff game in front of a hopped-up hometown crowd. Thanks to the Mavs' untimely exit, this one began with Mark Cuban choking back tears and Nowitzki saying, "At this stage it's a little hard for me to be happy. This is an award for the regular season. That's the way I got to look at it." It was funereal and equal parts bleak and surreal. It seemed likely that we would not see anything like it again anytime soon.

And yet we are very close to this sort of thing happening again. Kevin Durant, this year's presumptive MVP, is one game away from elimination. That game will be played in Memphis on Thursday night, as 20,000 people chant "Whoop Dat Trick" while Tony Allen unleashes all the hellhounds on Durant's trail.

If the Thunder lose Thursday, it will be a disaster. They won 59 games and flirted with Best Team in the League status at times during the regular season. It would also be the second consecutive postseason of diminishing returns with a second-round loss to the very same Grizzlies hanging over their heads from last season.

Last postseason's setback was brought on in large part by Russell Westbrook's knee injury, which forced Durant to become a one-man show. In many ways it was KD's finest hour. He played 228 of a possible 245 minutes, scored twice as many points as anyone else on the roster, and he led the team in rebounds and assists to keep the series far more competitive than it should have been.

But Westbrook is healthy again, and there are no excuses for OKC this time around. The roster is stocked with young talent and hearty veterans, and let's face it; MVP's ain't supposed to go out like that. Durant was taken to task by Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel, who wrote:

Trouble is, Durant's aggression and positive attitude come and go. His shoulders have dipped repeatedly during rough stretches of this streetfight. His effort is spotty. His confidence is shaken.

That's not appropriate for a 25-year-old superstar. A 21-year-old star? Sure. When Durant made just 35 percent of his shots in that six-game Laker series in 2010, we knew it was growing pains. Knew that Durant was being hounded by Ron Artest, the Tony Allen of yesteryear, a guy who sold out to defense and could stage Les Miserables for even the sharpest of shooters.

Leaving aside the tortured allusion to 19th-Century French social upheaval, Tramel's critique basically begins and ends with the notion that this kind of performance is unbecoming of a superstar, let alone an MVP.

Never mind that Magic was once Tragic, or that 26-year-old Larry Bird was swept in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks, or that Jordan didn't win his first title until he was 28, or that Hakeem's Rockets didn't break through until he was 31. Forget all that stuff happened to LeBron James, or Dirk's role in the Saddest Presser Ever.

Never mind that at age 25, Durant has already carried the Thunder to the conference finals and the Finals. He's become "Mr. Unreliable," according to the headline splashed across the front page of the Oklahoman:

Tramel also has the obligatory Jordan reference. He points to Jordan's valiant, but doomed, effort against the Pistons at the height of the "Jordan Rules" era that saw Detroit focus all of its collective might on grounding MJ. On that, he has a point. Look at the way the Grizzlies have defended Durant throughout the series:

Or here:

Or here:

No wonder his shoulders are sagging.

But Tramel also missed the obvious subtext, which is that the Bulls didn't start winning championships until Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause replaced their successful -- and in many ways capable -- coach with one who had a plan to get past the Pistons and bring out the best in his young superstar.

Perhaps the fault lies less with Durant and more with an offensive scheme that relies almost exclusively on Durant and Westbrook creating shots for themselves. Perhaps it rests on Scott Brooks' reliance on unimaginative lineups that lean heavily on veterans at the expense of the talented younger players buried on the bench.

As a point of fact, Durant has not been good in this series. He's shooting 40 percent overall and making only 28 percent of his shots from behind the arc. When he does get to the line, he's missed 11 free throws, including one very important one at the end of Game 5 when Joey Crawford Mutombo'd him just before he was set to tie the game and send it into a second overtime.

If the Thunder lose Game 6, there will be hell to pay and Durant will catch his share. That comes with the territory, and superstars from Magic to LeBron have been forced to deal with it in their careers. The larger issue rests with OKC's collective failure to evolve and to develop a plan of attack that goes beyond waiting for Russ and KD to save them.

As for "Mr. Unreliable," the line to secure his services in two years when he becomes a free agent forms at the left. You can almost hear the teams clearing cap space now.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NBA NEWSLETTER

Get news, links and Ziller's #hottakes in your inbox every weekday morning.

More from SBNation.com

Latest News

In This Article

Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.