Courtesy of MCT
On Monday night in Oklahoma City, the greatest player of the 2000s might have officially passed on his title to the player who could become the best of the 2010s.
Kobe Bryant scored 42 points in game five of the NBA Western Conference semifinals, but it was not enough as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, 106-90, ending the Lakers’ season.
But is that all that came to an end? Or was the world watching the changing of the guard, one era ending and another beginning?
Three weeks ago, the 23-year-old Durant eked out the league scoring title over the 33-year-old Bryant. Durant ended the season with an average 28 points per game, to Bryant’s 27.9 ppg average. Bryant, an intensely fierce competitor, chose to sit out the last game of the season even though he had the opportunity to surpass Durant and capture his third title.
Was this Bryant passing on the title of best player of the decade to his possible successor? No. But symbolically, it sure did seem that way.
Monday night was a different story though. Bryant certainly was not handing over this series to Durant, saying, “Go ahead, take it.” This time around, Durant took it from Bryant by force, and did so decisively.
From 2000 through 2010, Bryant was undoubtedly the best player in the game, winning five championships and going to 14 straight All-Star games. He also added a regular season MVP, three All-Star game MVP awards, eight First Team All-NBA selections and another eight All-NBA Defensive Team selections. He proved himself to be the closest thing to Michael Jordan as any player might ever be, with a killer instinct not seen since the days of His Airness.
But while Bryant is still one of the most clutch players in the league and as good of a shooter and pure scorer as anyone in the game, he has shown signs of aging, running on a pair of legs that have about 17 professional seasons-worth of wear and tear. His minutes have been decreasing slowly since the team last won a title in 2010. Moreover, the Lakers are not the team they were during their prime days of dominance. While the starting lineup is solid and big, the team has looked slow and is certainly very thin on the bench. It is clear this team is not capable of winning a championship the way it is built, especially with Bryant on the downside of his career.
Enter Durant. Now in his fifth year in the league, Durant has captured three consecutive scoring titles. Bryant did not capture even his first scoring title until his 10th season. Durant is a different type of player – he is three inches taller than Bryant, according to their NBA player profiles, and an absolute deadeye gunner from the outside who can create his own shot as well. Durant is almost unanimously considered to be one of the two top players in the league right now, along with Miami’s LeBron James.
And then enter the rest of the Thunder. Russell Westbrook has proven to be a top-10 player in the league and James Harden is an All-Star in the making. Add Serge Ibaka, or “I-block-a” as he has come to be known for leading the league in blocked shots, and you are talking about four top-30 players in the NBA on the same team. And the most shocking part? Durant is the oldest of the quartet … at 23. This team is stacked to win what could turn into five, six or even seven titles over the next decade. And that is the formula to potentially earn oneself the title best player of the decade.
Of course anything could happen over the next 10 years. The Miami Heat could prove themselves and end up winning five championships in a row, and James could steal Durant’s opportunity. Nothing is for certain in that regard. But it sure looks good for Durant.
But one thing is certain in 2012: the time of King Kobe is nearing its end, and Durant is waiting at the foot of the throne to take his crown.