Kevin Durant upset a lot of folks in Oklahoma City and throughout the nation today, as he spurned the team that drafted him, moved him and his teammates out of Seattle, refused to go into the luxury tax to pay James Harden, and lost several playoff series in painful fashion, for a shot to join what could become the greatest offensive team in the history of the NBA.
The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.
With his decision, the Warriors — long the co-laughingstocks of the league along with the Los Angeles Clippers — will never be the same. Even with their one championship and record-breaking 2015-16 season that almost ended with another title, the lingering memories from multiple lost decades never fully went away. Golden State fans nailed rugs to the floor in desperation, still certain that the spiteful Basketball Gods would yank them out from beneath at any moment.
Now, the Warriors are the new Lakers. The best available free agent in the league decided to force his way onto their roster, pushing out Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli in the process.
For longtime Warriors fans, this seems like a dream. Gone are the days of Bob Fitzgerald lecturing listeners on why the Corey Maggette contract made sense. The Warriors dodged a bullet when they didn’t land Dwight Howard a few years ago, but apparently they learned their lesson. This process has been ongoing, with Durant fully aware of Golden State’s desire to lure him westward for several years, and close relationships with Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala — forged in 2010 with Team USA — probably helping in their chase.
Then they brought in Jerry West to make the final phone call. For all the talk about Pat Riley’s ability to recruit, West possesses something Riley doesn’t — Hall of Fame credentials as a player and a unique perspective on professional heartache.
Durant’s “competitive spirit” will be questioned for looking like the living embodiment of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” but Durant lives in a different world than you or I. He lives in the same world as West. His pain isn’t generated by tweets from angry basketbloggers or tears shed in a Southern/Midwestern city that could use the extra income/buzz Durant provided for so many years. Durant’s pain came from losing playoff series, and it’s not like his prime will last forever. The man has a screw in his foot.
West finished 1-8 in the Finals, and told Durant those losses still haunt him. Durant could’ve been an Oklahoma City martyr, a hero to small-market fans everywhere. He might have even won a title or two with the Thunder. But staying meant taking a huge risk, one which would lead to him living out the rest of his days wondering “what if?” It also would’ve meant trying to win a title without Serge Ibaka (a tremendous advantage for the Thunder in each of their wins over the Warriors), all while Russell Westbrook’s return would’ve been in question.
A “basketball decision”
West also told Durant that playing alongside the Warriors’ star trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green would make it much easier on him. West opined that in Oklahoma City, most of Durant’s shot attempts are difficult and contested. He told Durant, a career 27.4 point scorer, that his points would come much easier in Golden State and suggested it would take fewer shots to score the same amount of points.
Finally, West pointed out to Durant how he believes his overall game is overlooked in Oklahoma City. Although Durant is known as one of the greatest scorers of all time, he does not receive much credit for his rebounding — he led the Thunder with 8.2 boards per game last season — or defense.
West said that if Durant goes to a team with other great scorers and wins championships, the other parts of his game will receive recognition, and he’ll be known as a great all-around player rather than just a great scorer.
Let’s not forget that Durant forfeits millions of dollars by leaving Oklahoma City. Sure, he has already amassed staggering wealth as a player and makes even more from Nike. (Guess they weren’t too worried about Durant playing with “Mr. Under Armour,” eh Windy?) But taking less money and moving to a far more expensive area takes an emotional decision, and here’s a guess …
Maybe, just maybe, Durant thought it would be more fun to play with the Warriors.
Durant leaves a team that passed less frequently than any other for a squad that loves ball movement, 3-man weaves, and backcuts. The Warriors feel disappointed when they don’t amass at least 30 assists in a single game, and now they have the scorer they didn’t before, one who can dominate in isolation when everything else bogs down and the shots aren’t falling.
Durant is the one and only guy who can do this for Golden State. With Oklahoma City he was one of two. Durant navigated playing with Westbrook beautifully for the most part, on and off the court. But they never quite figured out how to win together. It won’t take much of a learning curve to get on that winning track with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. They were four-fifths of the “Death Lineup,” which was more about swarming defense than anything else. Durant will give that lineup, which probably needs a new name, a rim-protector who showed his defensive chops in the Western Conference Finals.
Looking over your shoulder …
If it was just as simple as replacing Barnes with Durant, we could probably pencil in 75 wins right now. But the Warriors are effectively centerless for the time being, unless we really expect Damian Jones to slide right into this super-rotation as a rookie and give the Warriors good minutes at the 5. This would be unlikely even if Jones was healthy, but he’s recovering from a torn pectoral muscle and will probably miss training camp at the very least.
Green — whose quest to average a triple-double this season will be foiled by two things, (1) several fourth quarters spent on the bench and (2) Curry changing his game with Durant in tow to become more of a traditional point guard — will man the center spot sometimes, as he has before. Durant will also play a little center. The Warriors will add at least one, maybe two centers either via trade or through exceptions and minimum deals. The options off the top of my head are:
- Jermaine O’Neal (yes, really)
- Nenê (career earnings of over $120M and Brazilians love playing for GSW)
- Zaza Pachulia (outstanding fit, but probably wants more money than Warriors can pay)
- Amare Stoudemire (doesn’t need the $$$, but the Warriors need a defensive center)
- Anderson Varejao (I know, I know … but Steve Kerr loves him)
- Boban Marjanovic (basketbloggers would cry even more if he joined GSW too)
- Ognjen Kuzmic (familiar face who’s on the Warriors summer league roster)
But for now, the super-rotation looks like this: Curry, Thompson (who’ll get fewer shots, but almost none of them will be contested), Durant, Green, Iguodala (probably not a bad recruiter in his own right, based on what happened today) and Shaun Livingston, who was chosen over Ezeli with the Warriors’ reported decision to renounce the latter’s rights and make him an unrestricted free agent.
The other concern, other than a team that isn’t 100% complete and looks slightly smaller than what would be considered optimal:
Kevin Durant will sign a two-year deal with the Warriors at $54.3 million, league sources say, with a Player Option for Year 2
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 4, 2016
This is standard procedure, of course. If Durant re-signed with the Thunder he’d do a similar deal. With the cap expanding again next year, he can make millions more by structuring his contract in this manner. However, this does put some pressure on the Warriors to win a title in 2016-17, otherwise Durant’s eyes could wander. Then again, the Warriors will feel that pressure for as long as this core stays together, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s a new day
The Warriors are now the most hated team in North American professional sports … other than the Patriots, I suppose.
Embrace it, Warriors fans.
Most hatred stems from jealousy, and the Warriors earned it today. It wasn’t always like this.
- Curry fell into their laps when Timberwolves GM David Kahn drafted Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn. Then Curry’s ankle injuries made him ridiculously affordable.
- Not trading Thompson to Minnesota was one of Golden State’s most outstanding decisions, and not everyone was on board at the time.
- Green was a second-rounder.
The Warriors were lucky in some respects. This wasn’t luck. This was an aggressive (Joe Lacob’s word after Game 7), all-powerful pursuit.
In past years the Warriors wouldn’t even go after the best free agents, let alone THE best. The Celtics, with their history and Al Horford, couldn’t lure Durant. The Clippers never stood a chance. The Spurs fell short, as did Riley and the Heat. The Thunder met with Durant twice and couldn’t sway him. The Lakers and Knicks couldn’t even get a meeting!
The Warriors went after the biggest prize, a player with enormous talent on both ends who seems to get along with just about everybody, and got their man. Just 24 hours ago it seemed so unlikely. Then, the West phone call reports seemed to give the Durant chase a new tone. Now another MVP future and Hall-of-Famer is a Warrior, and next season can’t get here fast enough.