This fairly slow sports time of the year (Super Bowl corporate hype fest, NBA teams looking forward to the All-Star Break, NHL completely irrelevant outside Canada, college basketball regular season, no baseball) got a nice little boost from a Woj Bomb today.
The Golden State Warriors’ plan of pursuit predates their 2015 championship run, a bold plot to declare the futility of resistance. It isn’t only that the NBA champions are determined to recruit Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The truth is that they’re the most intriguing destination to him. If Durant leaves the Thunder, the Warriors are the significant frontrunners to sign him, league sources told The Vertical.
The reasons for this are plentiful and obvious. Kevin Durant wants to win championships, and the Warriors are really good with a core of players close to Durant’s age (27). There are some below-the-surface temptations for Durant as well. As Adrian Wojnarowski points out, Durant connected with Steph Curry in part due to their shared spirituality.
Wait, weren’t the Warriors supposed to be longshots for Durant?
The Durant-to-GSW rumors are nothing new; people have been pointing to his impending free agency as a reason for the Warriors to maintain flexibility for years. But they’ve remained on the whisper level until today, with several other possibilities seeming far more likely.
- Re-sign with Oklahoma City for a year, then enter the free agency market at the same time as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at a time when the cap will rise considerably.
- Sign a long-term extension with the Thunder this summer.
- Sign with the Washington Wizards, since he grew up in D.C. and the road to the Finals is still considerably easier in the Eastern Conference.
- Sign with the Miami Heat, since they always seem to land the superstars they covet.
- Sign with the Houston Rockets, since they always seem willing to re-shuffle their deck.
- Sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, since we’ve been conditioned to expect they’ll end up with every superstar in his prime somehow.
But this isn’t the NBA from five years ago. The Warriors are the bullies now. Besides, Durant grew up rooting for the Toronto Raptors. Sorry, Wizards.
How could the Warriors make room for Durant?
Yahoo’s new hoops microsite, The Vertical, issued a two-pronged approach today to get the Durant-to-GSW rumors sizzling. First came Wojnarowski’s story, then ex-Nets exec Bobby Marks issued a nine-step plan the Warriors could follow to sign Durant.
This is where reality waves a hand in the face of the wistful daydreamer.
This Warriors team is known for selflessness, versatility, and depth. Adding Durant would throw some questions into the mix, because according to Marks’ plan the Warriors would have to part with Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut (or Festus Ezeli), and several role players including Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush, Ian Clark and James Michael McAdoo (the latter five could only re-sign for the minimum or part of the mid-level exception, according to Marks).
Which would leave the roster looking like this:
- PG: Steph Curry
- SG: Klay Thompson
- SF: Kevin Durant
- PF: Drayond Green
- C: Festus Ezeli
- Bench: Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney
Then the Warriors would add to the roster with whatever minimum contracts and exceptions they had left, plus their 2016 first round pick (which they can’t trade), unless they draft an international player and let him play overseas for a year or longer.
Danny Leroux wrote a similar piece for The Sporting News in November, and his roster configuration was a little different (and, in my opinion, a tad more logical).
In Leroux’s scenario, the Warriors would look to trade Iguodala, Bogut and Livingston, leaving the entire team under 29 years of age before they look to fill out the rest of their roster. Since the Warriors hold Barnes’ and Ezeli’s bird rights, they can pay them more than the numbers above; those numbers in green are cap holds — not actual salaries. I’m not sure if McAdoo’s upside is prized quite as much now as it was in November, but he isn’t a huge part of this equation anyway.
Why break what already seems fixed?
Admittedly, it sounds ridiculous to look at a 44-4 team and contemplate ways to alter it in such a jarring way. The Warriors already seem like a perfect mix between youth and experience. Losing the Finals MVP, a center who can both pass and protect the rim, and either Livingston or Barnes would be a tough sell, especially if they repeat as champions this June.
But … c’mon. This isn’t a Love-or-Thompson question. This is Kevin freaking Durant, a top-five player who was named MVP less than two years ago, a player who’s scoring as efficiently as ever while rebounding at a higher rate than before.
Superstars before supersubs
While it would be incredible to have Iguodala and Livingston coming off the bench with Durant in the starting lineup, that isn’t possible. So let’s remind ourselves how the NBA works.
How many titles did Iguodala, Bogut and Livingston win before they joined the Warriors and Curry won his first MVP? How much better does Curry make everybody? With Curry on the floor, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 734 points in 1,550 minutes (numbers courtesy of nbawowy.com). With Curry off the floor, the Warriors have been outscored by 124 in 772 minutes.
The numbers for Durant aren’t quite as striking, but they’re still indicative of his power to influence games: +417 when he’s on the floor, -6 when he isn’t.
Durant would actually be better as a Warrior than he is as a … Thunder
Oklahoma City ranks last in the NBA in passes per game, Russell Westbrook’s usage rate is the second-highest in the league (behind DeMarcus Cousins), and no one on the Thunder other than Westbrook (9.9) or Durant (4.5) averages two assists per game. Would Durant not benefit from Golden State’s offense, in which Green (who, according to Wojnarowski, is “unflinching in his support of signing Durant”) would probably set a goal to become the first player to average a triple-double for a season since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62?
Would losing Iguodala, Livingston and Bogut make the Warriors too young?
This concern shouldn’t (and probably wouldn’t) keep the Warriors from going after Durant. It shouldn’t be incredibly difficult to fill the rest of the roster with guys in their 30s who know the joy (and residual wealth) that comes from winning titles. Guys who’ve made a lot of money already. Guys like, I don’t know, Joe Johnson, Roy Hibbert, Luol Deng, Luis Scola, Kirk Hinrich, Jamal Crawford, or even someone like Barbosa, Rush or Speights.
However, we’re talking about building a bench here. Which isn’t exactly like talking about practice (man), but the importance of a great bench pales in comparison to the importance of transcendent players. If the team included Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson, at least two of the four could always be on the floor at the same time (other than fourth quarter garbage time, after they’ve earned their rest).
Could all this talk about Durant keep the Warriors from repeating?
Puh-lease. Iguodala has seen it all. The Warriors reportedly offered Bogut and Barnes (or Thompson) for Dwight Howard in 2013. Barnes is playing for a max contract offer, so he’s got plenty on his mind. This team has been in the spotlight for well over a year and we already know they have tunnel vision. How else could they win their first 24 games after winning a title, then win 20 of their next 24 after that?
The chemistry question
The idea that this Warriors team is a family, and can play together forever, is fun and totally understandable. They stories about them all hanging out are fantastic (mostly because they win so many games). But several fans thought firing Mark Jackson would send the Warriors back to the lottery, and losing David Lee would make the 2015-16 Warriors worse than they were a season before. Sometimes change is good.
Their chemistry isn’t a mirage, and it isn’t dumb luck either. It comes from the top, and that’s not in reference to Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, Bob Myers or even Jerry West. Steve Kerr maintains a vise-like grip on this team, and Curry makes life easier for every player and coach on and off the court.
Curry also happens to be one of the two most unstoppable scorers in today’s game. Adding the other isn’t going to destroy the Warriors and turn them into … let’s see, which infamous team with multiple superstars could we compare them to that turned out horribly? Wait, that mythical team of selfish ballhogs who couldn’t put it together doesn’t exist. Even Shaq and Kobe combined to win a few titles, and they constantly feuded.
Curry and Durant, on the other hand, are like-minded players. If Durant comes to Golden State he would do so willingly, and Curry, Green and Thompson would welcome him (and the space he’d create). The Warriors should be fine without him in the short-term, there’s no doubt about that. But if they want an extended dynasty, it’s hard to think of a better recipe than two 26-year-old All-Stars and two 28-year-old Hall-of-Famers.