Not without some compelling reasons, the Golden State Warriors believe they are better, stronger, deeper and poised to supplant the San Antonio Spurs as the model NBA franchise that has been seamlessly stitched and glued together for the past two decades.
Since the days of the Admiral – remember David Robinson? – the tiny-market Spurs have had it all, including international stars, championships, coaching, stability and their iconic Tim Duncan.
But Kevin Durant to the Warriors? This is a brand new world. His defection to the Warriors adds a new dimension to his franchise and the modern NBA. The analytics experts and the eyeball testers will have a blast in this respect alone: One plus two equals three. After the league expanded from 23 to 30 teams in the 1980s, most of the league’s celebrated rosters featured two or three All-Stars who years later were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But what happens when three All-Stars are joined by a fourth, and he’s the most prolific scorer in the game?
The Warriors may have lost the championship, but they won the offseason. The franchise of Joe Lacob and Bob Myers and Steve Kerr and Jerry West is infinitely more interesting. Fascinating, really. Unpredictable, certainly. The team that the past two seasons played a rhythmic, joyful game without even glancing at its sheet music, that performed symphonies while wearing shorts, sneakers and T-shirts, reaching the high and low notes in unison – this was an ensemble act – will return next season with a different persona.
The 2016-17 Warriors are the NBA’s test-tube babies, the natural if not necessarily embraceable experiment that has been discussed for months. Of course the Warriors took a run at Durant. The only question was whether Durant would run out on the only franchise he has known and break up the formidable, if occasionally maddening, tandem with Russell Westbrook.
“It’s been hectic,” Durant said during his introductory news conference Thursday. “A lot of attention (and $54.3 million over two years) comes with being in this position. When I met these guys, I felt as comfortable as I’ve ever felt. It was organic. It as authentic. It was real.”
The Warriors are all of the above. Other than making an occasional verbal gaffe, Lacob has assembled the most professional organization in pro sports. Name a category and check the dots. Coaching. Front office. Scouting. The NBA draft. Community relations. Charity relations. Media relations. Human being relations. Those Silicon Valley cold-blooded instincts are checked at the front door, or at least cloaked in the back rooms.
And make no mistake. This was a cold-blooded move, and it’s not without risks. Players are not widgets. They bleed, they cry, they whine, they fear. They are incredibly insecure human beings, at least partly because those bloated salaries hang around their necks like balls and chains.
The DVR will get a real workout next season. On those nights when DeMarcus Cousins isn’t chewing off a referee’s ear or otherwise getting dinged for bad behavior – which we must monitor, at least until he gets traded or undergoes an existential transformation and becomes an embraceable member of the franchise – there are dozens of Warriors-related elements worth following.
First, after nine seasons of playing in a system that overdosed on dribbling, isolation and a two-man game that often left teammates staring into space, can Durant break old habits and adapt to a scheme that relies on movement, spacing, cutting, unselfishness and high basketball IQ? The Warriors don’t work at the game, they play the game, and they were within a jump shot or two of winning a second consecutive title.
“He’s not just another shooter, not just a defender,” Kerr said. “He’s a basketball player. The combination of all these guys together should be a lot of fun to watch.”
Those close to Billy Donovan describe the Thunder coach as “heartbroken,” yet unwavering in his affection for his former star. But the speculation about Durant’s departure will not be quelled anytime soon. Was Durant tired of Westbrook’s poor decisions? Did his family pressure the move to a larger market? Is this a New Age Phenomenon of pairing with friends on New Age Teams? Or was Durant’s motivation something much simpler, perhaps something as simple as a desire to share the burden?
The one knock on Durant might make him a perfect fit for the Warriors. For all his abilities, he is not regarded as that transcendent star who makes teammates better – that intangible gold standard that for generations has distinguished great players from superstars.
Durant wants to be part of a team that wins titles and dominates the league, but he doesn’t want the responsibility or covet the role of being the front man. The Warriors of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have that covered. If Durant can be content with fewer shots, move the ball more quickly and be a more consistent defender, the West Coast test tube might be a worthy heir to the aging, though still relevant, Spurs.
If not? Curry will be irritated. Green will erupt. Thompson – and beware of the understated but maturing Thompson – will be frustrated. But for now, what fun. The West Coast beat goes on …