Now, the NBA has been known to meddle in player affairs before, most notably blocking the trade that would have moved Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers. The league, however, cannot flat out prevent a player from signing wherever his heart desires in free agency.
The impending free agency of Durant poses a huge issue for the league, especially with the Golden State Warriors (73-9) and San Antonio Spurs (67-13) emerging as two of the favorites in signing the man widely considered one of the top five players in the world. Much like LeBron James’s exodus to the Miami Heat, the league doesn’t like superstars conglomerating on one team to form a dynasty.
So what can the NBA do to prevent Kevin Durant from jumping ship? Well, how about give him another taste of that sweet, sweet NBA Championship he’s been chasing with the Thunder for eight years. The last time, of course, didn’t go so well with the Heat taking the Thunder out in five games back in 2012.
Despite a couple of Western Conference Finals appearances, Durant and company have never made it back to the Finals. So maybe—just maybe—a trip back to the NBA’s biggest stage in 2016 would convince Durant to resign with the Thunder for at least a year or two, right?
Once again, I could be completely overthinking this theory. I do, after all, have a tendency to overanalyze oddities in professional sports. But, the NBA’s seemingly inability to correct the officiating problems plaguing the 2016 postseason—all of which have benefited the Thunder significantly—screams league office agenda.
It started in Game Two when the NBA’s “Last Two-Minutes Report” turned up five total screw ups on the part of the refs—most notably when Dion Waiters crossed the line while inbounding the ball to push Manu Ginobili out of the way. Thunder fans pointed to Ginobili’s foot on the line; however, you cannot argue that the two are equally obvious to the refs.
The result was a Thunder victory in San Antonio.
Game Five was the same situation. After taking one of the games in OKC, the Spurs had tied the series at 2-2 heading back home to Texas. With less than 10 seconds left, Russell Westbrook got the inbound pass and was almost immediately fouled by Kawhi Leonard—that foul, however, was not called. Westbrook was then able to drive in, score, and draw the foul on LaMarcus Aldridge, who seemed to believe a foul was going to be called on Leonard.
“Sometimes you get a call, sometimes you don’t,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game. I guess there’s not much to say. The NBA admitting they screwed up doesn’t do much to bring the Spurs back into the postseason.
With the demise of the Spurs, the Thunder and the referees became the Golden State Warriors’ problem. It took one game for the Warriors to learn just what they were up against, as Westbrook lost his balanced with 17 seconds left, stumbled backwards, and passed the ball after a few obvious steps.
No travel was called, the Thunder maintain possession, and they went on to win the game.
“I thought he walked,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, careful not to say too much after Game One.
It only takes one game to shift the momentum of a series. Now, the Thunder head back home with home-court advantage. Should they lose it, maybe the officiating moving forward is something to keep an eye on.