The story of how the Golden State Warriors talked Kevin Durant into creating the NBA’s newest version of the Avengers will be told many times from many different viewpoints. In fact, we rather suspect that The New York Times already has an interview scheduled with the team’s designated guru, J. Steven Lacob.
It could have Stephen Curry’s azure eyes, or Andre Iguodala’s open invitation to play Pebble Beach, or Jerry West’s Saturday phone call, but Durant is a Warrior – very much against the run of play, we grant you, but a Warrior nonetheless.
And that means that 73 wins is no longer enough wins, and losing playoff series are now unthinkable, and even having to play seventh games should be considered beneath them. The Warriors, once the lovable underdog reinventing the sport from below, are now one positioned to be one of its most transcendent bullies.
Hope you’re up for the heel turn.
The Warriors won a lot of fans in 2015, and then lost some through winning too much too soon and Stephen Curry showing an impermissibly allowable amount of his actual personality and Draymond Green becoming painted as a groin-fixated caricature and blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals to LeBron James, who had been and is again the center of the NBA multiverse.
So they went away from their organic roots and bought happiness. The team that has paid $14.8 million in luxury taxes this year is ready to pay four times that (or roughly what Cleveland is paying this year) next July because they wanted Kevin Durant, they sold themselves to Kevin Durant, and they got Kevin Durant.
Not there is anything particularly immoral about this. If Joe Lacob wants to spend his (and Peter Guber’s) last available dollar on basketball players, hey, it could be way worse. He could have spent it on Matthew Dellavedova just to save the wear and tear on Curry.
But what they have obtained here comes at the cost of their cream-filled center, Twinkie-metrically speaking. The Warriors entered this new phase of their existence as the cuddly, relatable, analytically delightful underdogs, and no matter what happens from here out, their 2015 championship will be the most delightful of the set – if there is a set.
And therein lies what barbecue specialists call “the rub.” If there isn’t a set, the Warriors will rightly be considered a massive disappointment, because Durant is being brought west to address the failure of 2016. And yes, we said “failure” because the players said “failure,” and their definition of the term matters most. They thought, as do all championship teams do, that 2015 was the start of the next dynastic turn in the sport, and a year later they got LeBronned and Kyrie’d, filleted and flash-fried.
So with Durant, they must be better than they were in the best regular season ever, and they must absolutely be one win and several losses better in the postseason. Durant promises parades by his very existence, and no rational cautions will be allowed. These are your new Warriors – the baddest, bossiest, bulliest team in the circuit, with all the subtlety and charm of a rhinoceros horn through the sternum.
It’s the price they are willing to pay to redress the alleged wrongs of the season just ended. They get Kevin Durant, and they give up their image.
And that is a deal only 29 other teams would cheerfully make as well.