Kevin Durant doesn’t think loyalty exists in the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs might have a case against this, however.
Loyalty is a heavy word in the NBA. We’re in an era of superstar players jumping from the teams they started their respective career with — opting to align with someone of their caliber. Gordon Hayward did this in the offseason, while LeBron James arguably started the trend in 2010. However, the San Antonio Spurs have mostly stayed away from these loyalty questions.
Kevin Durant may be the most significant name to switch teams over the past two years. He controversially jumped from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 offseason — weeks after the Thunder lost the Western Conference Finals to the Warriors. It sparked debate around the old “if you can’t beat them, join them” phrase, and created maybe the most talented “Big 4” in NBA history of Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Despite the Texas product’s nine years in OKC and all the success he brought to the city’s basketball team, he doesn’t believe loyalty exists in the NBA. He spoke candidly about this to Bleacher Report:
“Ain’t no such thing [as loyalty],” Durant said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “You see disloyalty in different ways, but that’s one of the most underrated parts of the game. We scream loyalty, but we don’t expect it from the people writing the checks because they’re writing the checks.
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Durant went on to discuss how he still has “blue” in his blood (referring to the Thunder) and always will. He loved it there but had to “make a decision.”
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Loyalty is a two-way street. You need it from the player and organization. One side can feel this toward the other, but if it’s not reciprocated, then it doesn’t exist.
Let’s go back to a 2016 article from FanSided’s Hoops Habit. Tiffany Davis discussed how the Spurs are part of a dying breed, that takes care of their players of the past and present. As she noted, it’s those who “have done right by them.” That includes David Robinson owning a minority stake in the team to Sean Elliott on commentary, Bruce Bowen’s jersey retirement and giving a second coaching job to Jacques Vaughn and James Borrego. Vaugh has since moved on, but you get the picture.
What about through the 2000’s? Tim Duncan almost left in the 2000 offseason, but re-signed on a long-term deal and stuck around until his retirement in 2016, spending every year of his career in San Antonio, TX. Part of this included sacrificing money in the final four years of the Big Fundamental’s career, when he could have made more than a seven-figure salary.
How about Tony Parker? He might outlast Duncan in a Spurs uniform, as long as the organization gives him the three-year contract he desires after the 2017-18 season. Given everything they’ve done for Manu Ginobili, even on his last legs, it would be a surprise to see the Silver and Black back away from keeping their French point guard.
Speaking of Ginobili, after 15-plus years, the Spurs let him decide to play or not for the upcoming season. If he chooses to suit up, they will always have a spot for him. That went for the 2016 and 2017 offseasons, when the four-time NBA champion opted to return for another year.
Those three were the epitome of loyal pic.twitter.com/630dY4FnWO
— Joseph Rivera (@jrivs_) November 17, 2017
Aside from the “Big 3,” look at what the Spurs did outside of Ginobili in the summer. Despite problems with LaMarcus Aldridge, they rewarded him with a three-year, $72.3 million contract extension, to keep him happy and make him settle into the organization. Pau Gasol even received a fresh multi-year contract, due to him exercising his player option and allowing the Spurs extra cap space for offseason maneuvering, before re-signing when the dust settled.
Maybe, Durant has a point about some NBA organizations and its abilities to be “loyal” to players. However, it’s difficult to say it doesn’t exist at all. Just look at the Spurs. These examples only outline what they’ve done for the past two decades, and may be the “gold standard” for NBA loyalty, in regard to keeping the most important ones happy.