The modern-day NBA is filled with superstar players forming superteams. This has been the current trend that has shaped the NBA landscape as of late and it has quickly become the formula for organizations around the league chasing a championship.
Kevin Durant joined the already historic 73-win Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016 and was met with relentless criticism from media members and outlets, the backlash from fans who burned their Oklahoma City jerseys and everyone else who believed he took the easy route to a championship.
Durant wasn’t the first to jump ship from one team to the next in order to position himself in a better situation and improve their chances of competing for a championship.
Day 35 of 100 Days of Hoops is dedicated to No. 35 Durant and the very first superteam built through free agency, and the two players that pulled a KD, before KD.
2003-04, Gary Payton and Karl Malone sign with the Los Angeles Lakers:
After the early 2000 Los Angeles Lakers failed to four-peat in 2003, they quickly reloaded and signed aging superstars Gary Payton and Karl Malone who were still the best players on their respective teams, the Seatle Supersonics and the Utah Jazz, before joining the Lakers as free agents to under market contracts (1.5 million for Malone and 4.5 million for Payton).
At the time Payton was a 35-year-old point guard and Malone was a 40-year-old power forward still chasing their first championship thanks to Michael Jordan. Both Payton and Malone averaged 20 points and both played at least 80 games the previous season.
The season ended in a stunning defeat in the Finals at the hands of the Detroit Pistons who won the series 4-1. Thus ending the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant era in Los Angeles. The season was a disappointment due to Malone tearing his MCL in December when the team was 20-5, missing 39 games, and Payton’s post-up heavy point-guard play struggled to gel with Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Not to mention the legal trouble Bryant was facing in Colorado.
Malone retired after the season and Payton was traded to the Boston Celtics and the team began the rebuilding process with Kobe Bryant as the centerpiece after Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat and Phil Jackson” retired.”
Durant was immediately validated for his decision to leave Oklahoma City with his first NBA Championship and a Finals MVP trophy in his first year with the Warriors.st
What validates him in a way is that, yes he joined an already title-contending team, but he became the best player on that team. He did not join the Warriors as a complementary piece like Malone and Payton.
Now that KD has his ring he has left his seat at the greatest players never to win a ring and joined the table of champions, shedding the label of the best to never win that still plagues some of the NBA greats, including Malone. Other players and teams had the same approach long before Durant broke the collective hearts of the Thunder fans and now that is the approach that modern NBA teams use.