Kevin Durant has shaken up the NBA world with his decision to join the Golden State Warriors. By now, you’ve already heard a drastic range of descriptions about this move. On the hater/hot take side, one never more emotionally stated than from Stephen A. Smith’s mouth, you will hear that this move is weak. Spineless, even. The Golden State Warriors and its fans feel the opposite. From this perspective, it’s the right move, the move about winning. The move about creating a dynasty. This potential for glory and dominance had to have been one of the largest pulls that steered Durant in the Bay Area’s direction.
Marc Stein of ESPN has reported that Durant’s two-year deal will be worth $54.3 million with an opt-out after the first year. That makes Durant and Stephen Curry possibly free agents at the same time, but make no mistake, this is a “can’t go back” decision from Durant. If he was willing to leave Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, he must be convinced that he can rule the NBA with his new teammates for years to come. Opt-out or not, Durant and the Warriors will be about winning titles.
From a legacy standpoint, this is the merging of two forces that will unify on a singular wavelength. The Warriors, a 73-win record-breaking team who became the first squad in NBA history to blow a 3-1 Finals lead, and Durant, a nine-year veteran who owns an 0-1 record in the Finals himself. Many have already thrown out Golden State’s legacy as an all-time great team since they didn’t back up the 73 victories with a title. Durant already had his doubters concerning whether or not he could win a ring, and with this move, he’ll have doubters even if he does ultimately take home the hardware.
Jumping ship. Bailing out. Leaving teammates hanging to dry. That will be the perception from the Oklahoma City fans who burn Durant’s jersey, the predictable Stephen A. Smith personalities looking for a soundbite, the casual basketball fans eager for a nemesis. But rather than viewing this decision as jumping ship, perhaps a better description would be changing course.
That will be Durant’s mindset, and expect everything about the man known as “KD” to be accepted in Golden State. The outside noise will be exactly that – outside noise. And haters won’t be capable of preventing a dynasty no matter how loudly they shout. Steve Kerr is sharp when it comes to managing personalities for the greater good of the organization. Equal assessments apply to Joe Lacob and Bob Myers. If any team is to merge stardom together, it’s Golden State. Its emphasis on ball movement, no egos, and “strength in numbers” is the ideal type of system when it comes to blending high profile players together.
With Durant’s decision, the NBA will be at the mercy of the Warriors. They now rock a starting lineup that will feature four All-Stars and the last three MVP winners (of course counting Curry twice). Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are two of the strongest defensive players in the game, and the same can be said for Andre Iguodala. The team has already signed Zaza Pachulia, arguably an upgrade over now traded Andrew Bogut (certainly an upgrade from a health perspective). Beyond that, Green is an utterly selfless player who masterfully sets up teammates, as is Iguodala, and the Splash Brothers have now, as I coined recently, become the Wave Triplets. Most importantly, the Warriors “Death Lineup” has replaced Harrison Barnes with Durant, fittingly calling for a “Grim Reaper Lineup” trade off to appropriately signify the change.
Transitioning from the NBA universe scope to my personal one, allow me to say that two days stand out above the others in my life as a Warriors fan – the day Golden State defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers for a championship, and the day Kevin Durant signed. In all honesty, the experiences are almost equals. I’m equally joyful with Durant’s arrival as I was when the Warriors beat LeBron James for a ring. But don’t expect this sentiment to thrive anywhere outside of the Bay Area. The NBA now has a team to loathe, a dominant force that, like the New York Yankees or New England Patriots have learned throughout their dynastic runs, is expected to win so is therefore rooted against. Where’s the fun in the team everyone thinks will win actually winning?
Well, when you’re a lifelong fan of that team, there’s plenty of fun. For Durant and the Warriors, there will be plenty of pressure. Regular season victories will mean nothing both due to Golden State’s Finals failure this past year and the fact that Durant has to win multiple titles to justify his decision. Any hurdles or stumbles will be magnified to a severe degree. An off game from Curry or Durant will inevitably cause questions of the team’s fit and ability to mesh as one. Scrutiny from the outside world will be at the highest level when judging the Kevin Durant/Warriors era.
Style of play, a potential showing of wizardry and excellence only matched by Bill Russell‘s Boston Celtics and select other all-time legendary squads, will be at the highest level, too. These Warriors know they have to win a championship this coming season to compensate for the 3-1 choke job against Cleveland. Durant realizes he’s joining a team who has already won a title and the doubts that will surface should they fall short with him in uniform. When this era is finished long down the road, the Warriors and Durant will be judged by how much they won. That’s it. And ultimately, if Durant wins a title, especially if he wins multiple, he’ll know that his decision, criticized and doubted by swarms of people, will go down in basketball history as the right one.