Kevin Durant to the Warriors
On America’s 240th birthday, the Bay Area and Dub Nation all around were probably shooting off fireworks at the Oracle Arena, where the Golden State Warriors play the newest and most entertaining brand of basketball. It could really be the most patriotic part of the country if it weren’t for the announcement, via Players’ Tribune, that Kevin Durant was signing with the Warriors, who this past season had just set a regular season record with a 73-9 season. This Warriors team, prior to the Durant signing, had already had a 2-time MVP, Steph Curry, Splash Brother Klay Thompson (who holds the NBA record for most points in a quarter with 37), 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodola, and radically emotional and yet deceptively good Draymond Green. With Durant now on the first actual super team, this takes the result of LeBron’s “Decision” to a whole new level (for the record, in my opinion, Durant handled his departure much better than LeBron did when he left for Miami, as did OKC as an organization compared to how Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert handled LeBron’s departure). A few questions come to mind after this incredible series of free agency events.
How did Golden State pull this off?
The rumors that Golden State could potentially sign Durant in free agency started back in February. Back then, that was just a fantasy, a dream, and a thought so absurd it ought to be illegal. Then the Thunder gave up a commanding 3-1 series lead and lost to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Ending the playoff run in such a way, a common NBA fan would believe he would remain with the team knowing they were that close to a shot at the title with Cleveland. So how were the Warriors able to convince Durant of the philosophy “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”?
Durant’s free agency began with a meeting from the Thunder, then the Warriors, followed by Spurs, Celtics, and Heat. The Warriors pitch party included Curry, Thompson, Green, Iguodola and head coach Steve Kerr. I assume their pitch went something along the lines of: “You’ve seen how we play; together. Now, you see how we recruit; together. We are all a part of a TEAM here. We hold each other accountable for each other’s failings and praise each other for our triumphs. Here we play with a team mentality. There is a set offense and defense here where hero ball isn’t always called upon like it was in Oklahoma City. We are your ticket to at least that one ring, of which all players end up being judged by. You will be the third and most talented Splash Brother.” As the meetings closed and Durant announced he would make his decision late Sunday to mid Monday, Durant’s options had reportedly dwindled down to 2 teams: the Warriors and the Thunder. However, another bit of information made news on Sunday evening. Jerry West, long time and former Los Angeles Laker player and front office associate, who had been with the Warriors organization for the last couple of years (responsible for the drafting of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes), made a phone call to Durant Saturday evening. It was rumored that the phone entailed talks of being a part of a team where everyone is treated the same and that no player was above that of the team. Evidently, that phone call is what tilted the weights in the Warriors favor.
So then how can the Warriors pay for all 4 of their stars? Durant is set to sign a two year deal worth around $28 million dollars per year, making him the highest paid player on the team. He is followed by Klay Thompson, who is paid around $17 million, Green at $15 million and the 2-time MVP, Curry, at $12 million. Yes, that’s right. Steph Curry, the best player in the league and reigning MVP is the fourth highest paid player on his team. Curry signed his four year deal in 2013, back when he was having ankle and knee issues that halted his progress in developing into the greatest shooter ever. With Curry a free agent in 2017, that leaves this next season as the perfect window for this team to terrorize the league for at least a year. Durant signed a two year deal with a player option on the second year, so if he wishes to leave for another team, reunite with Russell Westbrook or stay in Oakland, he can opt out and restructure after next season when the salary cap goes up again. As unlikely and unfair as it seems, the Warriors did it. They won Game eight of the Western Conference Finals and might have already won the 2017 NBA Championship.
Why not stay with the Thunder?
The Thunder was the first team to meet with Durant during free agency. Little did they know, that would be the last they would see of him, at least for a year. KD chose Golden State over OKC. Why? The Thunder added more depth by trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and draft rights to Domantas Sabonis, so that would appear to be a better all-around team if Durant had stayed. I believe, however, the real reason Durant left is because he got tired of the lack of organization Russell Westbrook and the team would play with. The Warriors actually run offensive sets and only rely on isolation when the shot clock is fewer than eight or five seconds. The Thunder lost Durant because they could not decide who the top dog on the team anymore. Russell Westbrook’s playing style and attitude was too big to share a spotlight with anybody close to or greater than his caliber. That being said, Westbrook deserves to have his own team to lead. He is easily an early pick for next season’s MVP. The keys to the car have been given to Russell and I can’t wait to see what he does with it.
What does this mean for the rest of the league?
The NBA has its newer and more hated version of 2011’s Miami Heat. Every arena the Warriors play in will be roaring with boos and jeers of all basketball fans outside the Bay Area. Nearly all of the NBA’s fans will be rooting against the Golden State Warriors (OKC fans have already started burning his jersey) and who could blame them? The Warriors had already won through drafting the team’s core, but when they flash that California-money, it looks more like Yankee-money. The challenge will be for the other 29 teams to ruin their run as the greatest team ever assembled. This isn’t the first time 4 future Hall-of-Famers played on the same team: the 1980s Celtics had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson, the 2013 Miami Heat had LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, the early 1970s Celtics had Bill Russell, Jo Jo White, John Havlicek, and Dave Cowens, and the early 2000s Lakers had Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. This is, however, the first time 4 players, all in their prime, came together to conquer and dominate a league of this level. Is it too early to start giving nicknames to the new team? The Fearsome Foursome? The Apocalypse Lineup? How about the Video Game? I can’t wait to see what the Internet and media comes up with.
How will the Warriors balance the egos on that team?
LeBron James will be the first to say it isn’t an easy task regardless of who is on your team. There have been other teams in other sports who have looked like the odds on favorite to win their league’s title; nearly every year with Real Madrid or Barcelona in soccer, the 2001 New York Yankees in baseball, and the 2007 New England Patriots for example. No matter how anyone may feel, the team still has to compete, co-exist, and win together. So how will the Warriors fit Kevin Durant into their offense? Kevin Durant heading the Golden State will surely understand on a team with this much offensive talent that his scoring numbers will take a dip. I believe that Curry’s assist totals will rise though seeing as Durant is one of the three best shooters in the world; the other two are now his teammates. Think about it this way: all those shots Harrison Barnes missed in the Finals last season, at least half of them go in if KD is shooting them. Speaking of free agents, Harrison Barnes will be signed by the Dallas Mavericks since KD will be taking up the salary cap space that would keep Barnes and other Warriors on the team; Bogut will be joining Barnes in Dallas, the Warriors made Festus Ezeli an unrestricted free agent, and they still need to make a decision regarding Marreese Speights and others. Nonetheless, those roster spots will be filled and so long as these players put winning above their own individual accolades, this team is unbeatable since they have 3 lethal scoring options, a lineup that is all-NBA level (Iguodola included). This team can prove that once the endorsement contracts have been signed, making money not an issue, it will come down to coexisting on the court and winning as a team and arguably the greatest team ever; 1996 Bulls included.