This isn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, we’ve seen it over, and over, and over again.
As Game 3 of the NBA Finals wound down Wednesday night in far more dramatic fashion than the series at large, Kevin Durant—already sitting on 40 points—pulled up from 33 feet, let it fly, and killed any reasonable hope the Cleveland Cavaliers had of digging themselves out of a 2-0 hole.
The shot, which sealed the Golden State Warriors’ eventual 110-102 victory, came from nearly the same spot inside The Q he’d claimed as his territory a year prior, deja vu at its worst for LeBron James, Dan Gilbert and anyone else who rolls with the Eastern Conference champions.
But in Portland, a city seemingly cursed by bad knees and worse draft picks, the familiar feelings that came rushing back had almost nothing to do with the Finals themselves. Yes, this was two years in a row that KD proved the NBA’s best team can—and likely will—beat the league’s best player. That, though, was just the start for a fan base tortured by the desire to ask ‘what if?’ as often as ‘what’s next?’
Yeah, I guess Portland probably should have taken Durant over Oden
— Dwight Jaynes (@dwightjaynes) June 7, 2018
Why did the Blazers take Oden? Durant is amazing. 2nd only to LeBron in todays NBA#NBAFinals
— R.D.H. (@hubbs76) June 7, 2018
Remember that night when the Blazers drafted Kevin Durant with the first pick of the 2007 NBA draft?
— Jeremy Conant (@jeremy_conant) June 7, 2018
— Jesse (@dagraffman) June 7, 2018
@nielsonTSN1260 It pains me as a Blazers fan to watch Durant. We could have had him, but went with Greg Oden instead. Just like we could have had Jordan instead of Sam Bowie. Ugh. And you thought the Oilers made some bad first round picks.
— Gary The Chihuahua (@ChihuahuaGary) June 7, 2018
At this point, there’s no need to relive the 2007 draft. It’s been 11 years. Damian Lillard is an All-NBA First Team point guard. And if you’re bothered by the the Blazers’ disastrous series against the New Orleans Pelicans, get your mind off the court for a second and appreciate something random and dope that’s happened over that past decade since passing on Durant…like the fact that Bradley Cooper has blessed us with The Hangover I, II, and III! (Cinematic victories and off-beat segues FTW.)
And yet, here Portland is again, in 2018, feeling hungover (there it is) watching Durant—someone LeBron himself called “one of the best players I’ve ever played against”—do what he does best: destroy, defeat, demoralize.
If it stings, that’s okay. We’re talking about someone who’s played 38 games in his career against the Trail Blazers, the most of any regular-season opponent he’s faced (tied with the Utah Jazz), while posting 27.1 points per contest in the process.
The Blazers aren’t the Warriors. They’re not the Lakers, either. Portland isn’t Cleveland, and it’s certainly not Boston or any other franchise that’s hit the lottery over and over again—earned or otherwise—over time or in recent history.
Frustration isn’t unwarranted.
But here’s the thing: As tough a pill as it is to swallow, it’s time to move on. Easier said than done? Absolutely. Worth it? One hundred percent. Because the fact is, Durant was almost a Trail Blazer, and that’s rough. But knowing what we know about the 2007 draft process, we can recognize he was never actually that close to becoming Portland’s next star. With Brandon Roy on the perimeter, Jamaal Magloire at center and a certain Ohio State big man on everyone’s radars since high school, that was always going to be Greg Oden.
(If you’re screaming, “They had Drexler too, they should’ve learned from Bowie!” you’re relegating yourself to a Rip City Revisionist.)
Across PDX, the most common source of solace regarding Durant goes something like this: He would’ve left for Golden State anyway. And maybe that’s true. But yikes. When did “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (even hypothetically) turn into “screw that guy, he’s a snake”?
Instead, it’s time to cast bitter feelings aside. It’s time to love the game we’re watching, not loathe a player we may never see the likes of again. It’s time to finally stop asking ‘what if?’ Because when LeBron called KD one of the best players he’s ever faced, that was the ultimate compliment…except it was followed immediately by one even greater.
“[One of the best players] that this league has ever seen.”
So, yes. We’ve been here before. James, who is living a two-year nightmare as we speak, told reporters after Game 3 that he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to sleep. But for the city of Portland, more than a decade into this process, it’s time to put the whole thing to bed.
KD is going to keep doing his thing, and the beautiful game of basketball is better for it. Blazers fans need to think about ‘what is’, not ‘what if.’ And what this is, as the Finals wind down and Durant continues etching his name into history, is a heck of a career playing out before the eyes of basketball fans everywhere—Portland included.