The Oklahoma City Thunder, and their franchise superstar Kevin Durant are in Washington to face the Washington Wizards tonight at 7 p.m. As you may be aware, Durant is from the Washington area and is a fan of some other local sports teams. Many in the D.C. area hope that he plays for the Wizards next season because he is expected to be an unrestricted free agent.
You can expect to see plenty of fans wear customized Durant jerseys which aren't official unless you add some other modifications to it. And various sports sites, including this one will add their perspectives on what may be Durant's last trip to Washington as a Thunder player before wearing a Wizards uniform next fall.
Let's just assume that Durant ends up playing in D.C. next season. What then? Would he be the new franchise player in Washington, relegating John Wall to Kyrie Irving's status from franchise cornerstone to LeBron James' sidekick on the Cleveland Cavaliers when the King decided to come back home last year?
No, Wall won't. In fact, he will still be the Wizards' franchise player.
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There are two previous and relatively recent examples where NBA superstars were traded to teams with an established but less talented franchise player, yet they weren't the alpha dogs themselves.
First, look at the Boston Celtics in the 2007 offseason. They had Paul Pierce as their franchise player for nearly a decade but were unable to advance past the Eastern Conference Finals. At the time, the Celtics were coming off a 24-58 season, one of the worst seasons in franchise history when they began to rebuild for the future.
In that offseason, the Celtics made a couple major trades, where they traded Jeff Green, their first round draft pick, Wally Szczerbiak, and Delonte West for Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. Soon after, Boston traded Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, and a bunch of more players and picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade for Kevin Garnett.
After Boston's new "Big Three" was complete, it was clear that Garnett was the Celtics' best player as opposed to Pierce. Garnett was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2004 and won more All-NBA team honors than either Pierce or Allen before their reign together when they made the finals twice and won the 2008 NBA championship.
Even though the Celtics had a new identity on the court, some things remained the same, like the man who was announced last in the starting lineup:
It’s a blessing, man, to have that kind of leadership, that kind of experience to come to your team. He’s going to uplift this whole ballclub, it was big that we got him. Huge, rather. Just in that locker room. He’s been captain of the Celtics for 13, 14 years. That’s an honor that’s not too easy to get and he had it for a long time, and when we won a championship, Kevin [Garnett] – Ticket – wasn’t the captain. Ray [Allen] wasn’t the captain. That’s big and we know that.
The second example is the Miami Heat in the 2010 offseason. They acquired Chris Bosh and LeBron James in free agency that summer to join Dwyane Wade to form another "Big Three."
Wade was a more-established star than Pierce was for Boston in 2007. He already won an NBA championship in 2006 and was the Finals MVP. But James, the then two-time reigning MVP was entering his prime and decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to play alongside Bosh and Wade to form an even more potent trio than Boston's.
From 2011-14, the Heat made the Finals four consecutive times and won the NBA championship in 2012 and 2013. James would also win the MVP award in both years he won an NBA title. Though Bosh has been unfairly labeled as a "half" within Miami's Big Three at times, Wade was quite injury-prone and failed to play more than 70 games a season during James' tenure there.
Was that enough for Heat fans to consider James as their franchise player?
Nope. Wade was still the player who was called last in the lineups.
Historically, Wade has been known for making personal sacrifices -- in the form of lower salaries for himself -- than some of his teammates. Players like James, Bosh, and Shaquille O'Neal among others. Those sacrifices certainly have helped make the Heat one of the most successful NBA franchises in the last ten years. Wade's 2006 NBA Finals MVP honor is just a cherry on the top to what has been an excellent professional career.
Going back to the Wizards, it's quite interesting to see many fans feeling very enthusiastic about the possibility of Durant playing for his hometown team, especially when it's clear that the team is on an upward trajectory.
There already is a rising star backcourt with Wall and Bradley Beal. Even in the low post, Marcin Gortat has been one of the East's better centers since playing in Washington and should still be a serviceable force, even if he declines a little bit. These are certainly reasons why playing in Washington could be quite attractive, hometown factor aside.
But like the Celtics in 2007 or the Heat in 2010, the Wizards have an established NBA superstar in Wall, and Beal appears headed on the same track. They have led the Wizards to their highest levels of postseason success since the 1970's.
If Durant signs with the Wizards in 2016, he'll be their best player. But if he's playing in D.C., Durant won't simply be handed the keys to the franchise like LeBron James did in 2014 when he re-signed with Cleveland.
In James' case, the Cavaliers through a four-year period of irrelevance when he was in Miami. James also had an established history as the Cavaliers' most decorated player in franchise history before his infamous "Decision" to take his talents to South Beach.
John Wall -- like Paul Pierce for the Celtics and Dwyane Wade for the Heat -- is the Wizards star who has been with the team the longest and has played a primary role for his team's success. If you're a longtime Wizards fan, even if Durant plays in D.C., the first player who defines the team's identity is Wall.
As long as Wall remains here in the nation's capital, that is simply not going to change.