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The Kevin Durant Show

Is anyone else surprised that the Seattle basketball community is focused on everything but Kevin Durant this morning? Despite being the biggest sports star to enter this market since Ken Griffey Jr. Durant ranks right around fourth on the conversation list this morning. First people want to talk about Ray Allen, then Jeff Green, then the swap of Allen for Greens and it's affect on our franchises future. Somewhere at the end of the conversation it gets mentioned, “Oh yeah, Durant is going to be great.”

The Seattle SuperSonics lost a classy leader yesterday. They traded a great basketball player who conducted himself with extreme professionalism and was an active and respected member of our community, a significant donor to local charities, and the face of the franchise. Despite the fact that the Sonics drafted Kevin Durant all of todays conversation is centering around the blockbuster trade which sent 32 year old Ray Allen to Boston in exchange for Jeff Green, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak. Today fans are taking time to sort out their feelings about the Ray Allen era.

Ray Allen at his best is a lot more than a shooter. His abilities to cut off screens, move without the basketball, handle the ball, and set up teammates were vastly underrated. In our 2005 52 win season he defied his reputation as a pure shooter to be a pure ball-player, dominating every way but defensively. At his best even his defense is not poor, simply middle of the road.

Unfortunately over the last two seasons Allen has reverted back to being primarily a gunner. Taking shots himself, not being quite as willing to distribute the ball, and of course failing to win. This change, combined with his age, contract, and surgery on both ankles created a situation in which trade options had to at least be explored.

In addition to these issues there is the matter of Ray Allen the teammate. Like his game Ray Allen’s personality was something of an issue. Again you can look at Ray at his best, a complete professional with a calculated public presence, pride and dedication above his peers, and a willingness to shoulder responsibility that would be admired in any profession.

Beyond that however there are other issues, many of which are not really visible to the general public. Ray Allen has a persona so large that it dwarfs everything around him. His influence on young players was undisputable and, while often very positive may have held young players back from establishing their own identity. On the team there is very much a clique of “Ray’s guys” and there is a sense that Ray dictates the behavior and play of those guys.

Many readers may ask themselves how this can possibly be a bad thing, but at times it is. Ray Allen wanted the ball, he demanded the ball, and he set the tone. At one point a player who I will not name told me that he felt the problems with Luke Ridnour originated with Ray. He contended that Ridnour was intimidated by Ray and that, each time down the floor Luke would disregard other players to ensure that Ray got the very first look. In this account Luke had been pressured by Ray, almost scolded if he crossed mid-court and got the ball to any player not named Ray and had gotten into Ridnours head and lead to hesitation by the young PG. Another player laughingly described the mid-court huddles saying essentially that “on TV they always describe the pep talk. They don’t know that half the time it is Ray bitching someone out saying “why didn’t you get me the (freaking) Ball?’

Ray does not have the ability to turn this off. His personal confidence and his pride are part of what make him so great and his imperfections should not detract from that greatness. However when trying to build a franchise you have to wonder whether this personality would create problems going forward with a new young superstar.

Looking backward there were always so many questions about the Sonics ability to build their franchise around Ray and Rashard:

Can you build a winning team around an offensive minded SG and SF?

Are Ray and Rashard’s games too similar to coexist?

Is it possible to win when both your PG and SG are sub-par defenders?

Is it possible to improve the teams defense when the primary player is so offensively oriented?

Will there be enough shots for Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Kevin Durant?

Oddly enough trading Ray Allen addressed all these issues in one fell stroke. While it created significant new questions for the organization they at least have taken a significant step towards making this Kevin Durants team.

People will ask whether the loss of Ray Allen could be result in the Sonics leaving Seattle. Could handing the reigns over to a pair of rookies disenfranchise the fans to the point that the team simply has no support and leaves the area.

To answer that question you must fairly ask yourself how in love Seattle ever was with Ray Allen, and more importantly how much they will fall in love with Kevin Durant. While today fans are talking about Ray Allen and Jeff Green tomorrow they will rightly begin talking about Kevin Durant. Durant deserves to be the centerpiece of the franchise and that would have been difficult to do with Ray Allen’s dominant personality on the roster. Allen, despite his obvious greatness was never the franchise saver that people are making him out to be. The title of Savior is Kevin Durants to win or lose.