It’s been over 72 hours since Kevin Durant has announced his intention to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Golden State Warriors. During that time the pundits haven’t been shy, delivering their all too quotable, hot takes on what they make of the decision. Some takes have been rational, thoughtful and prudent while others have been exaggerated, wild, and blatantly outlandish. The thing is, none of it matters. It doesn’t matter if you like Kevin Durant more after this move or if you’ll never root for him again. Durant didn’t make this decision with the pundits and fans in mind. He made this decision strictly from a basketball perspective, as he said he would all along. And the thing is, like it or not, it was a great decision.
From Durant’s perspective, he leaves Oklahoma City, a city and community in which he became deeply entrenched in, but also a team which could just never get over the hump. Whether it be Durant’s own injuries or those of his now former teammates, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, there was always an impediment to the Thunder’s quest for an NBA Championship. Finally, when things seemed to fall in place for them this year, as they took a 3-1 lead on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, they still could not get the job done. Absent hearing Durant speak about it, all we can do is speculate; however, it would seem that this was the tipping point for the 27 year old superstar and what ultimately led to him determining that if he was going to win, it wasn’t going to be in Oklahoma City.
Durant could not have chosen a better destination to do just that. He will step into a lineup featuring three NBA All Stars, the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, and a team which won an NBA record 73 regular season games. In Oklahoma City, the only other weapon was Westbrook, and at times the two struggled to coexist. Westbrook, a superstar in his own right and a great player, wasn’t always ecstatic on being the perceived Robin to Durant’s Batman, which led to selfish play for stretches of games. In Golden State, Durant will be playing alongside the most unselfish superstar not named LeBron James, Steph Curry. The reigning two-time MVP has no ego and neither do his counterparts Klay Thompson or Draymond Green. Heck, Green was quite possibly the strongest recruiter of Durant to the Warriors. The remarkable part of it all is Green, who is undoubtedly a star and a top 25 player in the league, was clearly the third option behind Curry and Thompson. And bringing in Durant would slide him down one spot more to the fourth option. That means less shots and subsequently less All Star Game appearances, because how many times do you see four All Stars from the same team? It could happen, but you get the idea. Green didn’t care and neither did Curry or Thompson. With Golden State, there are no egos and no agendas, except for maybe one: win.
Almost every shot Durant took in Oklahoma City was contested. There were few possessions where he was able to get clean, uncontested looks without a major defensive breakdown. With the Warriors, he will get a plethora of them. Teams will not have the ability to solely hone in on Durant thanks to the Warriors’ ability to spread the floor with Curry, Thompson, and Green. That means Durant, a career 38% three point shooter, could easily see that number rise to over 40% next season and beyond. He may not get as many shots as he did with the Thunder, but the quality of shots will be far superior, affording him the opportunity to score just as much, just more efficiently.
From Golden State’s perspective, this move was a no-brainer. It cost them Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, who are nice pieces but easily dispensable when you have the opportunity to add a top 3 player in the league. In addition, the blow of losing Bogut was softened when the Warriors added Zaza Pachulia, who is a solid, proven big to take his place. But back to Kevin Durant. Warriors’ GM Bob Myers had been salivating over the opportunity to add Durant dating back to last year. That was prior to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, winning 73 games this year, and taking a 3-1 lead in this year’s NBA Finals against the Cavaliers. Even before all of that and amidst the greatness that has become Steph Curry, Myers wanted insurance. Insurance, that should something happen to Curry, or Thompson, or Green, that the Warriors could still win. Insurance, that should Curry or Thompson, the assassins known as the Splash Brothers, have an off game or an off series, that the Warriors could still win. And in acquiring Kevin Durant, insurance is exactly what Myers got. Not only that, but also the greatest collection of talent the NBA has arguably ever seen.
It is mistaken and premature to just assume the Warriors will win the NBA Championship next year. So many things can happen. Both Curry and Durant have injury histories and 82 games is a long season, not including the playoffs. There are questions that will need to be answered on how they will fill out the remainder of the roster, in addition to questions that will only be able to be answered over time. Will they enjoy winning or will it just be a relief since it’s now expected of them? If they don’t enjoy it, will they become lazy and complacent? How will they handle the target on their backs every night? When the game is on the line who takes the last shot? These are all legitimate questions without legitimate answers right now. That’s not to say the Warriors won’t answer them and answer them emphatically. It’s just a friendly reminder not to get ahead of ourselves. However, one thing cannot be questioned and that is the Warriors’ level of talent. Talent is not the end all, be all, but it is a good place to start and with it, the Warriors are in better position than anyone else. And at this point, that’s all that matters.