Warriors

Warriors Under Review: Pesky Heat no match for Kevin Durant's brilliance

Warriors Under Review: Pesky Heat no match for Kevin Durant's brilliance

OAKLAND – The Warriors fooled around and won a game on Sunday, needing the full 48 minutes to put away a Miami Heat team whose greatest asset is its zeal to overcome its roster shortcomings.

So when a final-seconds heave by Heat guard Dion Waiters was off target, the Warriors more relieved than satisfied.

Here are some of the positives and negatives culled from a 120-118 win at Oracle Arena:
 

POSITIVE

KD the terminator

Three turnovers aside, Kevin Durant was terrific throughout. But he was absurd in the second half of a game that could have gone either way, scoring 25 points in 19 minutes, on 10-of-12 shooting, including 1-of-3 from beyond the arc. Repeatedly getting to his mid-range spots in isolation, he scored 11 of the team’s last 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins’ clinching free throws with 5.4 seconds left the only exception.

The Heat, like most teams, had no answer for Durant. His teammates saw that and exploited it.
 

POSITIVE

Draymond’s dimes

Few teams are more proficient using physicality to disrupt an offense than the Heat, who had some success in the first half. Draymond Green, who had four assists and two turnovers in the first half, solved them in the second. Finding a seam here and a crack there to zing passes to set up his teammates, Green recorded 10 assists and one turnover after intermission.

The Warriors shot 59 percent in the second half. Klay Thompson (7-of-10) and Durant made the shots, and Green did plenty of spoon-feeding.
 

NEGATIVE

Tardy again

Eight minutes into the game Friday in Phoenix, the Warriors trailed the Suns 26-9. Eight minutes after tipoff against Miami, the Warriors were down 24-7. With sloppy play and lack of focus, they invited early 17-point deficits in back-to-back games. Both times, with the help of energy off the bench, they recovered over the final 40 minutes to get the victory.

These are textbook examples of a bad habit. Getting away with it doesn’t make it right.
 

NEGATIVE

Speaking of bad habits

The Warriors, for the second consecutive game, allowed their opponent to grab 19 offensive rebounds. One game after the Suns put up 20 more shots (101-81) than the Warriors, the Heat put up 21 more (103-82). Phoenix had 25 second-chance points, and Miami rang up 21.

For the time being, the Warriors consider fundamentals as unnecessary. Until they fix this, they’re asking for trouble.
 

POSITIVE

The jersey swap

Heat legend Dwyane Wade is making the post-game jersey swap a routine of his farewell tour. His swap partner in this game was Stephen Curry. They shared a few private words, and then posed for cameras, each gripping the jersey of the other.

[RELATED: Warriors show appreciation for Wade in final game at Oracle]

A few folks, mostly cranky retired players, don’t approve of this.

We do. Celebrate the game.

Warriors could feel Kevin Durant's loss more on defense than offense

Warriors could feel Kevin Durant's loss more on defense than offense

Much has been made of the offensive firepower that has departed the Warriors since they lost to the Raptors in Game 6 of the 2018 NBA Finals. Kevin Durant has taken his talents to Brooklyn. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston -- two critical members of Golden State's dynasty -- are no longer with the team. Klay Thompson, coming off a torn ACL, is expected to miss a large chunk of next season.

And yet, those collective departures could potentially have a more drastic effect on the Warriors' defense.

Yes, for the last several years, the Dubs have been renowned for their explosive offense, but they've always been a good-to-great defensive team under Steve Kerr. A lot of that is due to players like Draymond Green, but there's reason to believe Golden State's defense could take a step or two back next season.

Using FiveThirtyEight's new DRAYMOND rating system, the Warriors have lost three of their six best defenders from last season according to Bleacher Report's Will Gottlieb -- and that doesn't include Thompson, who will be out a while.

In losing Durant, Iguodala and Livingston, FiveThirtyEight projects the Warriors will lose 1.2 points per 100 possessions of defensive value based on the team's cumulative scoring defense alone. It's worth noting, however, that in order to qualify for that metric, a player must have played at least 10,0000 possessions over the last six seasons combined. So, the Warriors' 2019-20 DRAYMOND rating doesn't factor in Golden State newcomer Glen Robinson III, nor any of the Warriors' 2019 draft picks.

As such, it's possible the dropoff might not be as severe as FiveThirtyEight projects, assuming those newcomers prove to be solid defensive players. Then again, it could also go the other way if they prove to be poor defenders. One must also consider the possibility that the seven veterans that are included in Golden State's 2019-20 DRAYMOND projection outperform their individual projections.

For instance, Draymond Green's career DRAYMOND rating of plus-3.2 points per 100 possessions is considerably better than his 2018-19 DRAYMOND rating of plus-1.76. The 2019-20 projection assumes Green will perform at an identical defensive level, even though it's reasonable to assume he'll outperform it, based on both track record and necessity.

[Why Doug Gottlieb is very wrong about Draymond's place in NBA]

If the Warriors are going to get back to the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, it will require certain individuals to step up defensively. Green will lead the charge, no doubt, and should enter next season as one of the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year. But it's got to be a group effort, or else replacing Durant, Iguodala and Livingston's combined 35.7 points per game won't be the biggest of Golden State's problems.

Why NBA owners aren't worried about massive free agent contracts

Why NBA owners aren't worried about massive free agent contracts

A recent conversation with a first-ballot baseball Hall of Famer sent me to the research lab.

I’d reached out to him, along with several others, soliciting reaction to the NBA’s free-agency feast earlier this month. Knowing some fans were displeased with the clout being exercised by players and the massive contracts being signed, I wanted to hear his thoughts.

Despite having much smaller rosters, NBA owners spent more money on free agents in one week than either the NFL and MLB did in an entire offseason.

“They can afford it,” Reggie Jackson said of NBA owners. “Even with the players having what some people think is too much control, they can afford it. It’s the NBA franchises that are increasing the most in value – more than baseball and even football.”

I was skeptical. Jackson, 73, is a baseball legend still on the Yankees’ payroll. Sure, he hosts a general sports-talk show on SiriusXM and has various business interests outside baseball.

Fact check: Reggie is right.

The value of an NBA team is rising higher and faster than those in the NFL, which reaps the benefits of the fattest contract in sports. MLB, well, it’s getting smoked in this investment race.

The Warriors, purchased for $450 million in 2010, are now worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes’ annual analysis. In math terms, that’s nearly 800-percent growth in less than 10 years. The Celtics, bought for $360 million in 2002, are valued at $2.8 billion. Slower growth than the Warriors, but still roughly 800-percent growth.

Three months before the NBA approved the sale of the Warriors to a group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, the NFL approved the sale of the Rams to Stan Kroenke. He paid $750 million. The Rams, who have since moved to Los Angeles, are now valued at $3.1 million, according to Forbes. Good growth. But not NBA good.

Two months before Kroenke bought the Rams, a group of Texas businessmen paid $593 million for the MLB Rangers. Nine years later, Forbes sets the Rangers’ value at $1.7 billion.

The NBA is the hottest property in American sports. Owners and players know it. Some say they saw it coming. The massive amounts of money, that is.

That’s why, unlike MLB team owners, whose tight-fisted winter has players in a simmering rage, NBA owners didn’t blink at drawing up more than a dozen nine-figure contracts. There was little to no negotiation in those instances.

That’s why, unlike the NFL, where owners forever have their loafers on the necks of players, NBA owners are willing to live with the burgeoning bargaining power of the labor force. NBA free agent Kawhi Leonard told the Clippers he’d sign with them under certain conditions, such as finding a way to also add Paul George, who was not a free agent.

The Clippers traded for George. They gave plenty, but now have two All-Stars in their primes.

Athletes in other leagues can only dream of having such power.

“That’s a change for the league,” Warriors president/general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “Maybe LeBron started that. But this notion of teams pivoting quickly, that’s new. And fans love that stuff.

“It’s fine that it’s a players’ league. That’s how it should be. They’re taking control of their direction and I guess that’s good. They’re seeking shorter deals. They’re moving in certain directions and they’re doing it fast.”

Between June 30 and July 8, NBA teams committed to spending more than $3.4 billion – nearly all guaranteed, with the exception of a few contracts containing incentives. The Warriors, knowing Klay Thompson will miss most of next season, signed him to a five-year deal worth $190 million. The Brooklyn Nets, aware that Kevin Durant almost certainly will miss all of next season, didn’t flinch at signing him to a four-year deal worth $164 million.

NFL teams, by contrast, spent roughly $2.8 billion in the offseason, with maybe half of it guaranteed. Most players never see all the non-guaranteed money.

MLB spent $1.76 billion over the winter, nearly half of it going to two players: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

One of the reasons I sought out Jackson was because he’s a former Oakland A’s players representative. He worked with Marvin Miller, the late legendary executive director of the MLB Players Association. Miller negotiated MLB’s first collective bargaining agreement. Through Miller’s analysis and conviction, player compensation and benefits took a giant leap forward.

“He should be in the Hall of Fame,” Jackson said of Miller. “But the owners keep him out.”

Michele Roberts is the current executive director of the NBA Players Association, accepting the job in 2014 and unanimously approved last summer for another four-year term. Some players that don’t meet the elite standards required for maximum contracts may grumble, but most seem to understand the hierarchy.

In Toronto for The Finals, Roberts was standing in a hallway between the locker room and the court when Thompson, exiting the visiting team’s locker room, saw Roberts out of the corner of his eye and stopped in his tracks. He went over to share a hug and some brief conversation.

[RELATED: Why Durant picked the Nets]

Five weeks and a torn ACL later, Thompson was signing a $190 million contract.

Warriors ownership didn’t hesitate to offer it, perhaps because they know they can afford it.