It’s understandable. Folks are worried. No one said this was going to be pretty.
The Golden State Warriors are 4-1 in their last five games since imploding in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals against eventual NBA Champions the Cleveland Cavaliers (No, the pre-season does not count). This would have been just another story, except that the 2015 NBA Champion Warriors were coming off an NBA record 73 regular season wins and rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals against Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Yes, the same Kevin Durant who, weeks later, signed on the dotted line to fortify the Warriors’ front line.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia.
Now that is an enviable frontline. Question is, who holds the fort in the second unit?
There isn’t an argument about upgrading a slipping Harrison Barnes with one of the purest scorers the NBA has ever seen in Kevin Durant; and while Zaza isn’t as polished an offensive presence as Andrew Bogut, he doesn’t take anything off the table. Where the Warriors failed, and miserably so, is the inability to assemble a second unit that took care of business while the starters rested.
Shaun Livingston and Andre Igoudala are the only two bench players of any significance that remained in Golden State once the summer frenzy died down. Gone is veteran leader Leandro Barbosa and his playoff chops. Gone is the hustler and rim protector in Festus Ezeli. Gone is the enforcer and floor spacing of Mareesse Speights. More importantly though, gone is the camaraderie that held that championship winning, record breaking core together.
The modern NBA game has spread out even more
The pace and space era is putting more miles on NBA players. NBA coaches now spread out and stagger their stars’ regular season minutes, saving their legs for the playoffs. This shift places greater emphasis on second units that can stand their ground while the starters catch their breath.
Golden State has a unique problem. They have a loaded first unit. Extremely loaded.
Although their bench got drubbed (they were outscored 54-16) against the Spurs, Kerr has enough firepower between Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green to ensure at least one, if not two, All-Stars are on the floor all the time. This may not work in the playoffs, when firing on all cylinders (or All Stars) becomes crucial. And that’s why we have the regular season.
Unlike in the English Premier League where every single game matters in a 38 game season decided on wins / losses / points, the NBA’s regular season games, while critical for that coveted playoff seed, are a playground for coaches to figure what works and what doesn’t, until things get real in during the playoffs.
This is an ever so slight deviation from our high expectations of the 2016-‘17 season for Warriors. Golden State will be just fine. They have two former NBA Most Valuable Players in Durant and Curry, the NBA’s third best two-way player in Thompson (behind LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard), and the NBA’s most versatile player Draymond Green. Most importantly they have a student to two of NBA’s greatest coaching minds, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, calling the shots: Steve Kerr.
If you still are worried, go ahead and find solace in this video of Durant’s shoot around on Thursday night as he was preparing to face the Pelicans. He sums up the Spurs’ loss it best: “It’s one game of 82 and you f***ing guys make me feel like the world’s going to end.”
Before we move on, KD addressed free agency at his media availability during the NBA All Star Weekend here. “I want to finish this thing out with my team. I think we got a really good thing going right now”
The biggest, most stupid, and atrociously insane idea is the KD to Golden State rumor. The nightmare it seems. Oooh I’m scared! What a load of rubbish.
Now imagine this scenario. It is mid August and Warriors owner Lacob is addressing the media alongside Coach Kerr and Curry, fresh off beating the Cavaliers in a six game series for their second NBA Championship in a row, coming on the heels of a 75-7 regular season record, the best since the 95-96 Bulls 72-10 season. Lacob is addressing the media, and proceeds to say. “I really like what we have going here. We have one of the three best players in the League, the League’s best regular season record, and I’m confident of seeing ourselves repeating this year. I’m having a lot of fun. But I need to make this better. So let me lay all rumors and assumptions to rest. Next season, we are going to sign Kevin Durant.” Stop. Hold. I cannot go on. I almost threw up in my mouth. And my fingers want to self amputate.
Remember when the Bulls wanted to sign Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway after the 95-96 season? No? Exactly my point.
I will come back to the Durant angle, so let’s look at this from the Warriors point of view. You do not need to be a basketball expert to see why any change of any sort in the makeup of this team is illogical. Hell, you don’t even have to be a basketball fan to witness the joy and fun with which this team gels together and plays the game of basketball in the most beautiful way possible. The right way. Every piece fits, Curry is transcendent as a player / teammate / leader, and through some sheer stroke of luck gets to play with the second best shooter in the league in Thompson, all the while their hybrid forward Draymond Green causes all kinds of havoc running, passing and shooting like a guard and playing center in crunch time, defending players that have anywhere between 3 – 5 inches and 10-15 pounds on him. Proof that these guys are doing it right? Despite all that talent ahead of him Igoudala, a premier D & 3 guy nevertheless, was Finals MVP in a Championship year! Barnes, drafted by Golden State, has been there from the beginning, Bogut (despite the career low in MPG and PPG) is shooting a near career best from the field because of impeccable ball movement, Livingston has found his element showing us traces of what could’ve been had it not been for that nasty injury in ’07. Rounding off the team with Ezeli, Barbosa, Speights and occasionally Ian Clark and Brandon Rush, and you have the near perfect basketball team. So perfect, in fact, that aside from Klay and Curry, none of these players would thrive on any other NBA team the way they thrive in Golden State. Individually they may have faults, but as a team they are near perfect. Just like those 95-96 Bulls. To even suggest that there is an inkling of an intention to blow this up by trading and / or renouncing nearly 1/4th the team to sign another alpha star, who everyone knows will not move to Golden State (more on this in a bit), is not just ridiculous, but borderline stupid. And I would completely be in support of Lacob calling a press conference with Kerr by his side and the team at his elbows, telling the world where exactly they can put this Durant to Warriors idea. Hint: It is a dark dark place.
But I digress.
Anyone who has followed Durant’s career, even fleetingly so, knows he is exceedingly loyal. To a fault.:
Flashback to 1995. After reeling off three back to back 50+ wins regular seasons, the latter two of which ended in an NBA Finals loss to the Houston Rockets (’95) and a loss to eventual NBA Champions the Chicago Bulls (’96), Shaquille O’Neal had two choices. Stay on and continue to build on his legacy in Orlando, or move to L.A. to start afresh with the Lakers and young high school phenom, Kobe Bryant.
Flashback to 2010. After reeling off two back to back 60+ wins regular season records both ending in losses to eventual NBA Finalists the Orlando Magic (’09) and the Boston Celtics (’10), Lebron James had two choices. Stay on in Cleveland and continue build on his legacy in Cleveland, or move to Miami to form the Big Three there by increasing his odds of winning an NBA Championship.
Flashback 2012. After reeling off three 45+ wins regular season records seasons where they went deeper in the playoffs every year, eventually losing to NBA Champions Miami Heat, Kevin Durant had two choices, stay on in OKC and continue to build on his legacy in OKC despite losing one of his closest friends and one of the OKC big three James Harden in one of the worst deals in NBA history, or force a trade to a better situation on any team he wanted. Literally, any team.
We all know what happened in each of the three situations. Lebron scooted to Miami and reeled off two championships in four years, Shaq moved to the Lakers and won three championships.
Durant? Well, Durant stayed loyal and stayed put, fighting his way till this very day all the while carrying the burden of terrible management decisions year-on-year. Now yes, pundits will argue, and I will agree that Lebron and Shaq were free agents, and Durant had just signed his first max contract post his rookie contract. But to dismiss the fact that Durant could’ve thrown a “superstar tantrum” and forced his way out of OKC, considering that the OKC management did not know what it was doing as evidenced by the Harden fiasco, is being naive. Instead, Durant chose to stick by his team and his running mate Westbrook, who felt just as let down in the Harden fiasco.
Fast forward to 2016, the Thunder have the third best record in the league, behind the Warriors and the Spurs who are boasting historically great runs, and finally have a team where the pieces fit.
Ibaka has gotten better with each passing year, Kanter is turning out to be better than expected, and the usual suspects in Adams, Payne and Morrow are doing their bit.
But the most important bit is, no matter who they are matched up against in the playoffs, they will have two if the three best players in that series. Simply put, do you really want to meet OKC in a Game 7, when they have two of the three best players in the series suiting up for them? Didn’t think so.
There are a bunch articles explaining why KD renewing for year makes the most financial sense for him. But I don’t believe its about money for KD. This is about chasing a legacy that very few players can boast off…winning a championship with the team that drafted you. And that is what, I believe, KD cares about the most.