By Steve Lansdale
OAKLAND, Calif. — Prior to the 2016-17 season, Kevin Durant actually had some skeptics. While he and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook often turned in spectacular performances to make their team one of the league’s best — even reaching the NBA Finals in 2012 — there were those who questioned whether Durant could deliver a title.
Those critics are permanently silenced. In his first year with the Golden State Warriors, the former University of Texas star turned in a Finals performance worthy of a video game. Durant capped off his ninth professional season by averaging 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while connecting on 55.6 percent of his shots to lead his new team to a convincing 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the league’s championship.
Durant’s performance was so dominant that he overshadowed three star teammates — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — and Cleveland stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to claim the NBA Finals MVP award, joining Los Angeles Lakers rookie Magic Johnson and Philadelphia 76ers center Moses Malone as the only players in NBA history to claim the award in his first year with a new team.
Durant has a player option that would allow him to bow out of the remaining season on the two-year contract he signed with the Warriors prior to this season, but the almost universal expectation is that he will play out his contract in the Bay area with a Golden State team that is expected to stay largely intact next year and make a run at another title in 2017-18.