It was a collapse. There’s no sugarcoating the painful obvious, the irreversible truth. Not only are the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors the greatest team in the history of sports not to win a championship, they’re also the first team in Finals history to blow a 3-1 series lead. But by now everyone knows that.
The question, depending on your philosophical tendency, should go one of two ways. Both need to be answered, only one, however, will have the utmost impact. The first and less urgent, is the following, how did this happen? Be it Stephen Curry shrinking, Draymond Green‘s Game 5 suspension, LeBron James/Kyrie Irving collectively going bananas, Steve Kerr‘s decision to coach Game 7 of the Finals like a regular season game, or what have you, there needs to be accountability and acceptance of failure to this debacle.
And there has been. Numerous Golden State players have acknowledged this season’s glaring shortcoming of not winning a title. No one is running away from blame. No one can, truthfully. From Curry to Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson to Festus Ezeli, the coaching staff and beyond, there are plenty of reasons for the Warriors failing to repeat.
One of them was almost Kevin Durant. And there lives the second question, the one of what happens next? It seems distant now when Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder had a 3-1 lead over the Warriors. National media thoughts of the Warriors being figured out surfaced. A Durant/LeBron rematch in the Finals, albeit years later, seemed inevitable. Previous talk of Durant possibly joining the Warriors would seem to have been proven absurd in time with the Thunder actually surpassing the Warriors to some degree.
Goodness, how a 3-1 lead collapse for a franchise can change things. For Durant, the team collapse proved that while OKC is a special squad, they’re still not quite on a Golden State or Cleveland level. For the Warriors, the nightmarish downturn showed that they aren’t quite as far ahead of the rest of the NBA as many believed throughout the season. The Warriors, if closer to perfection than any other organization, revealed in the NBA Finals how far from perfect even the greatest teams truly are.
Within that realization lives a missing piece to the puzzle dynamic. Is Durant the solution there? Possibly. I long thought he’d be nutty to join the Warriors had they been back-to-back champs. Say they completed the three-peat with Durant in that scenario. Would he have been happy having his first ring as Curry/Thompson/Green collect their third? Would his ego or even his pride allow him to join a team who quite simply didn’t need him to reach the ultimate goal? Given two straight titles, would the Warriors be wise to go after such a ball-centric player capable of altering the chemistry?
Those questions are unnecessary now. The Warriors lost, and the pull for Durant is already there. He can be pitched as the finishing touch on a budding dynasty, a chance for Durant to himself win a ring and end the personal drought while making a team who won 73 regular season games even better. From a basketball standpoint, Durant to Golden State would be a glorious relationship for both parties.
The last point of the discussion is the common foe, a man based in Cleveland who has been responsible for the pain of both Golden State and Durant. It was LeBron’s Miami Heat who defeated KD in his only NBA Finals appearance, one that saw Durant exit the court in tears, and if you don’t know how LeBron factors into Golden State’s recent heartbreak, I’m not sure how you stumbled across this article. Banning together, the Warriors and KD would certainly be the title favorites, even over Cleveland. Without KD, one could still argue the Warriors as the favorites overall. Durant would be putting himself in his greatest position to win a championship, and the Warriors would be making a massive step in overcoming the 2015-16 pain.
If Durant does join the Warriors, I’ll be the first to buy a jersey. I’m a lifelong Golden State fan, not part of the shameful masses who flocked last season when greatness was on the rise. I’ve lived through the repeated seasons of incompetence when a playoff appearance and first-round exit seemed like a fantasy. Compared to those times, a Game 7 Finals loss one year after winning a championship doesn’t seem so terrible. But then again, reaching the mountain peak only to fall off presents a certain type of sorrow, one different than years of anonymity and irrelevance.
A method to climb that mountain again, and this time to stay atop, would be signing Durant. It remains to be seen if KD is willing to leave the only franchise he’s ever played for, and if he does indeed opt for a decision outside of the Bay Area, the Warriors must have a backup plan. But Durant is Golden State’s offseason prize, and why I know the Warriors have arrived as a force is because it doesn’t feel like a fantasy. Winning, even for a team marred with years of ineptitude, is a tangible result. So is having one of the best players in the world willfully choose to join you.
In the aftermath of a heartbreaking Game 7 loss and the feeling of having an incomplete season, the knowledge that Durant could join the Warriors, at least for today, makes me happy. Golden State has given its fans hope, and landing Durant is simply the next logical thing to hope for. And if he does ultimately join, it will be championship hardware, not hope, that defines the Golden State/Durant era. I can dream, can’t I?