This Independence Day will be one to remember for the fireworks that went off in the NBA. Preceded by a sparkly week of NBA free agency, the grand finale saved the best for last as MVP Kevin Durant chose the direction his basketball career is headed. Most expected an Oklahoma City return for Durant, but on Monday morning, Durant made it official- he is, for at least the next two years, a Golden State Warrior. KD’s decision shook the NBA landscape and created a superteam that the likes of the NBA, or any sports league, has ever seen before.
Implications for Golden State
Wrap your head around this- the best statistical team in NBA history just added one of the greatest players of all time. No, this isn’t some fantasy or video game- it is reality. The Warriors, who have appeared in the last two NBA Finals and won a record 73 regular season games last year, are now even better. On paper, they’re the best team in NBA history. Another record-setting win total? An undefeated playoff run? The sky’s the limit for Golden State, and this move makes them a skyscraper.
If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because the addition of Durant has overshadowed the huge shift in the team dynamic of the Golden State Warriors. With Durant, last year’s MVP in Steph Curry, and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Draymond Green, the Warriors have three of the top ten players in the Association, more star power than the James-Wade Miami Heat or any other team in NBA history. Looking at Golden State’s roster, it looks like this one is the team the USA is sending to Rio for the Summer Olympics.
Behind LeBron and Steph Curry, Kevin Durant is one of the best players of his generation. Just imagine Curry, but over half a foot taller and without all the three-pointers. Durant is a once-in-a-generation shooter who’ll play alongside a once-in-a-lifetime shooter in Curry, so the shooting performances of Golden State will be scary and unprecedented. Durant utilizes a rare all-around skillset and is a threat to win MVP every year. That is who and what Golden State is signing for two years.
But with the addition of Durant, one of the Warriors’ greatest strengths, depth, suffered. With Durant’s contract eating up the rest of the salary cap, big men Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes bid farewell for greener pastures, a.k.a. Dallas, and another key big man, Festus Ezeli, was dropped. That leaves a huge hole in the frontcourt, which was already a weakness for the Warriors. Green and Durant are tall and can be physical, but neither is suited for the center/5 spot. It is no longer about defense and depth with Golden State.
Ultimately, the offensive superiority of the Warriors is so tremendous that it makes them almost a write-in vote to win the Finals next year. But with Green, Curry, and Klay Thompson eyeing big deals on the horizon and Durant only guaranteed for two years, it’ll be tough to keep the core together in the future and keep the Finals trophies rolling.
Implications for Kevin Durant
KD had one goal in mind when he signed with Golden State- win the NBA championship. Unless the Cavs or Spurs pull off a Leicester City-esque miracle in the playoffs, Durant’s wish will come true. However, with Stephen Curry on his team, Durant isn’t the alpha dog in Golden State. If they win the championship, Durant won’t have carried a team to a title, as he would’ve had he won with Oklahoma City or anywhere else in the NBA. The team won 73 games without him.
How does Durant give up that alpha dog role by his own choice? The guy is as humble as they get. At this stage of his career, Durant wants to win a title and take his game to an all-time level. Joining the Warriors gives him the opportunity to do both, even if he’s not the man for a while. The flexibility of the contract (two years), opportunity to join the best in the NBA, and ability to make the leap from elite to historic make this deal a definite win for KD.
Implications for Oklahoma City
They came in as the prohibitive favorites and out as the biggest loser of any team in the NBA. Just a couple months ago, the Thunder were one game away from the Finals with a 3-1 lead over the Warriors. Now, their MVP has bolted for the very team they ceded the lead to and left them in near shambles. Russell Westbrook is an MVP candidate, but GM Sam Presti will be looking at offers to trade the superstar point guard. Even with Westbrook, the Thunder’s ceiling now is a low seed in the playoffs or a low lottery team, stuck just in the middle. The Durant-Westbrook era brought good times, but with Durant’s departure, the winning days of OKC are over for the foreseeable future.
Implications for the Rest of the NBA
Prior to Kevin Durant’s decision, the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Thunder looked like possible challengers to the Warriors in next year’s playoffs. Now, the Thunder have had the air taken out of them and Golden State has skyrocketed way above the competition. It is hard to imagine any scenario where Golden State doesn’t win the title, next year or 2017-18. For the MLB and NFL, any team is realistically capable of winning the championship. In the NBA, only the Warriors, and possibly the Cavs or Spurs, have a shot.
From an equality standpoint, Durant’s move hurts the NBA, but the new and improved Warriors are now one of the most intriguing storylines in NBA history. Everyone outside of the Bay Area will be vigorously booing and picking apart the Warriors, even outside of NBA circles. What can the greatest team ever assembled in history do? We’ll find out soon.