It has been quite the incredible free agency season so far this year. Names such as Durant, Wade, Horford and Rose will be draped across new jerseys, forming a new identity and a fresh path for many. With Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors, the unfathomable has happened and it has caused a major divide in opinion of basketball fans and personal league-wide. A common question that I have heard within the circle of casual basketball fans, or sport fans in general, is simply, how? How is it possible for a historically incredible 73-win team, such as Golden State, to recruit one of the top three players in the league and why don’t teams just do this every year? Well, they technically try....you can relate to the Boston Celtics from 2008-2012, the Miami Heat from 2011-2014 and other countless examples even earlier on, but the truth is, it's not that easy. No lineup, however, has been as overwhelming on paper as these 2016-17 Golden State Warriors in the history of the league.
So how they ask? How is this possible and why is it not done more.
Well, there are many reasons why. There are many things that had to happen over the course of the past eight or nine years that ultimately culminated on July 4th, when Durant officially signed the dotted line to join the Golden State Warriors. I can’t exactly say that one event was more or less significant than the other, so instead I will do my best to list off all of the events in the order that they happened to help people better understand how this could all come into fruition. Here are 15 things that you can thank as a basketball fan, for bringing KD to Golden State and completing the impossible.
15 Steph Curry’s Injury Troubles
To begin, we look all the way back to 2009. Coming out of college at Davidson and entering the 2009 NBA draft, many teams looked at Stephen Curry as an undersized, injury prone point guard and slapped the high risk/high reward label on his back. Curry, in December of his debut season (2010), would tweak his ankle and need surgery in May of 2011 to repair torn ligaments. Eight months later, Curry would sprain the ankle again and miss forty games for the Warriors. At the end of the 2011-2012 campaign, the Warriors had to decide whether they would gamble on the injury prone Curry or not. They would end up finding a happy medium, signing Curry to a 4 year/ $44 million deal, a great term for what they knew could be a franchise caliber player going forward.
Steph is now heading into the final year of that deal and this better explains why he is not at the top of the annual cap hit for the Warriors. Had Curry not been injured time and time again from 2009-2012, the Warriors probably would have been forced to give him a max contract, significantly changing the financial makeup of their team. Even with the significant increase in the salary cap this season, Golden State would not be able to afford all of Curry, Durant, Thompson and Klay. It just doesn’t happen without Curry being injured and subsequently underpaid.
14 OKC Injuries
The Oklahoma City Thunder could be one of the biggest "what if" teams of all time. They've been an extremely well drafted team that was stacked in talent and built from the ground up, but could never get over the hump due to reasons inside and outside of their control. Late fourth quarter blunders and the inability to get the job done is one thing, but injuries are another. Durant hasn't exactly been able to maintain the most healthy of player profiles up to this point in his career and the same could be said for Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
"Damn, what happened? We were right there and everything we built is crumbling." Durant was quoted as saying in a Sports Illustrated article, pertaining to his foot injury that had eliminated the Thunder from contention last season and reflecting upon the injuries that kept Westbrook and Ibaka sidelined for chunks of the post-season in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Up until this season, the team was undefeated in playoff series in which Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka were all fully healthy. Who knows what they could have done from 2012-2015 had they not been plagued with so many injuries. Do they win a title, two titles? Does Durant still want to leave? Again, who knows.
13 LeBron James, The Decision
When LeBron James made his decision publicly on national television back in 2010, he officially opened up the door for fellow superstar players to walk away from their respective teams. It was horrible. Not the decision, but the way in which he constructed it. LeBron ripped the hearts out of Cleveland fans everywhere on national TV and pissed off a lot of people around the league in the process.
LeBron set the precedent. We can almost guarantee you that while making his decision, Durant thought about what LeBron did and the implications that it has had on his career. He also probably realized that LeBron took all the heat off of players who may want to make a similar career choice and that he would not look even half as bad. Think what you want about Durant's decision- it's fundamentally incomparable to LeBron's, but politically, LeBron made it a lot easier for KD to leave on "good terms."
12 TV Contract with ESPN and Turner Sports
This may be the most obvious and significant reason for Kevin Durant being able to join the Warriors. During the spring of 2014, Adam Silver and the NBA finalized a mammoth deal with ESPN and Turner Sports worth $24 billion over the course of nine years. This jump will see the NBA go from making $930 million annually to $2.4 billion. So what does this mean exactly? Well, when the NBA renegotiated the CBA in 2011, it was decided that players would receive 49-50% of league revenue.
This major influx of money from ESPN and Turner Sports, along with the league raking in money from ticket and merchandise sales, has resulted in the NBA salary cap going from $70 million last season to $94 million this season…a 34% increase in cap space! The TV deal of 2014, slowly but ultimately set the stage for the Matthew Dellevadova’s of the NBA to become close to $10 million players and the Harrison Barnes’s making over $20 million. If this massive deal is not made, there is no space for Golden State to accommodate Durant, as well as the other superstar players that they have been able to hold on to.
11 Max Deals
In relation to the TV contracts, CBA and all that fun financial NBA stuff, we have the existence of max deals - the single reason LeBron James is not the highest paid person on planet earth as we speak. Max deals, put simply, define the maximum amount of money on a given term that you can pay a single player. Max deals are designed to both reward the star players for their significant value, while still allowing organizations to maintain some financial sanity, as there are obviously many other players on the team that need to be paid as well.
If we didn't have max contracts, I have no idea where we would be today, but not here. In fact, LeBron, Curry and Durant would probably all be playing in Los Angeles, racking up rings for an entire decade straight. Imagine? Hmm, maybe max contracts suck after all...
10 Adam Silver
Adam Silver is awesome. He is smart, innovative, open to new ideas and knows how to speak for the people. He has handled a number of NBA issues extremely well and clearly has the growth of the sport in mind with every decision he makes. David Stern was actually a better commissioner than he gets credit for, but it’s safe to say that this would never have happened under his watch.
In 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers thought that they had acquired point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in a three-way trade that also included Pau Gasol going to the Houston Rockets. Before the trade could be official, David Stern vetoed the decision and called the trade-off. Silver has been a proponent of innovation and letting the league take its due course. With Silver behind the desk, Durant plays for the Warriors, but I feel as though if Stern were still in charge, he would have found a way to stomp out this fire.
9 Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson? Why would KD need to thank Klay Thompson? Did he take him on a tour around the Bay area? No. Did he have the Durant’s over for a recruitment barbecue? Yes. Okay, no. I’m kidding. What Klay did do, however, was completely shift the momentum of the Western Conference finals last May, when he dropped 41 points and hit eleven three-pointers in game six in Oklahoma, to keep the Warriors season alive and force the game seven that would ultimately prove to be Durant’s last game with the Thunder.
What happens if Klay fades away just as Steph and Draymond did in that game? The Thunder are heading to the NBA finals and have a solid chance to beat LeBron and the Cavaliers. Win or lose, the Thunder just playing in the finals would have gone a long way in helping convince Durant to stay. But it didn’t happen. Klay went nuts and helped the Warriors end the game on a 21-7 run, defeating the Thunder and pushing them further towards their own demise. Hey Klay, thanks Klay.
8 3-1 Collapse in OKC
This one is tied in with #9 as Klay Thompson's 41-point night was the middle patty of the big, fat, Oklahoma City Thunder choke sandwich. The Thunder were however up three games to one on the Warriors and had allowed themselves three consecutive chances to book their ticket to the NBA Finals, but they just couldn’t do it.
After running through the Spurs to the dismay of the NBA in six games, the Thunder were playing their best basketball to date heading into a match-up with the 73 win Warriors. The Thunder would jump out to the 3-1 series lead and all of a sudden, it seemed as though the Thunder were the team to beat and Kevin Durant was the alpha dog of the NBA. It seemed as though this year would be different for the Thunder and they would finally break through to the promise land. However, due to a couple of classic fourth quarter unravelling’s led by Russel Westbrook, the Thunder would lose three straight, ending their season and the Kevin Durant era as we know it.
This is one of the worst ways that the Thunder season could have ended and there is no doubt in my mind that this bitter taste remained in KD’s mouth upon making his decision to join the Warriors, a place that he saw first-hand knew how to win in big moments.
7 Draymond's Groin Shot on LeBron
This is another big-time what-if that has to be mentioned on this list. With time winding down in game four in Cleveland, the Warriors looked unstoppable going into game five. That was until in the closing moments of game four, when LeBron James and Draymond Green would get tangled up, resulting in an exchanging of words and culminated by Draymond Green swinging his arm at the crotch of LeBron James.
The result? Green was suspended for the potential title clinching fifth game and all the momentum swung back towards the Cavaliers. This is the moment that LeBron got his confidence back and it was all downhill from there for the Warriors. We are firm believers that with Draymond in the lineup in game five, in front of their home fans at Oracle Arena, the Golden State Warriors would have become back-to-back NBA championships. However, they blew the 3-1 series lead, LeBron and the Cavs won it all and Durant joining the Warriors becomes an even more logical decision.
6 LeBron James Block, Kyrie Irving Shot
The LeBron James block and Kyrie Irving three pointer are perfect examples of the butterfly effect of the NBA. Already dubbed as one of the greatest finals moments ever and arguably the biggest moment of LeBron James career, his game seven block on Andre Iguodala may also have contributed to Kevin Durant’s arrival in Golden State. With the score tied at 89 in the final 1:10 of the fourth quarter, LeBron James with Usain Bolt-like speed, chased down Warriors forward Andre Iguodala from behind and met him at the rim, blocking Iggy’s lay-up attempt and solidifying our “LeBron won’t let this slip away theory.” In fact, the Warriors did not score for the last four minutes of the game due to the excellent defensive intensity and effort by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
The next immediate possession after LeBron's block would see Kyrie Irving face up with Steph Curry, make a couple of dribbles step back and drain an impossible fade-away three that essentially clinched the Cavaliers the NBA championship. The Warriors could not find a response from there on out, as Kyrie's shot, seemed to be the final blow to the legacy of the Warriors season and they could not recover. If these two plays don’t happen, odds are the Warriors win the game, series and championship. If that’s the case, do they still pursue Durant with such intensity? Maybe, but I guess we will never truly know.
5 The Cleveland Cavaliers Winning the NBA Championship
The block and the three pointer are equally incredible and led to the victory, but what is the real significance behind the outcome of these plays and the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship? The Golden State Warriors realized that championships do not grow on trees, so when there is a top-talent available in free-agency and you have a chance to make your 73-win team even better, you do it! The Cavaliers winning the title simply balanced the landscape of the NBA. They showed the league that they are serious contenders year in and year out and that you better compile a damn good roster if you want to beat them.
Not only does it give teams like the Warriors an incentive to improve, but it totally kills the narrative of "KD jumped ship to the NBA champions." The Warriors won 73 games, yes. However they failed to bring home the ultimate prize and, in turn, Durant is just joining another extremely skilled team, but not the champions. So for those of you who think KD signed to "guarantee himself" a championship, just watch a little more basketball.
4 Russell Westbrook
Hold on Russell Westbrook fans, before you throw your hands up in the air, hear us out. We love Westbrook as much as the next guy. He is arguably the most exciting player to watch in the league and his athleticism trumps just about anything we have ever seen from an NBA player. We are in no way saying Russ is inferior to Durant, we just think that despite their close relationship off the court, on the court Westbrook made Durant's decision a little bit easier.
After eight seasons of trying the same thing time and time again, would you opt to stay with a point guard who is erratic and unpredictable on the court, automatically goes into hero mode in the fourth quarter, ignoring the fact that he can’t shoot the basketball, and essentially plays his team out of more close games than he wins for them. Or would you rather a point guard who is the greatest shooter of all time, who’s unpredictability is actually his best quality and who has already proven that he can win and get it done when it matters? The choice is yours, but I’ll just leave it at that.
3 The Dallas Mavericks
Just because the cap has been significantly increased, it doesn’t mean teams automatically have all the money in the world to spend. Teams still must be able to create cap-space if need be and that is exactly what the Golden State Warriors did with a little help from Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks. Ever since drafting Dirk Nowitzki in 1998, the Mavs have used him as their core piece and for the most part have filled in the holes around him via free agency every off-season.
Knowing that the Warriors were serious contenders for Kevin Durant, Cuban knew that they could take advantage and gather some spare parts off of the Warriors and thus, they made a trade with the Warriors to acquire big man Andrew Bogut for a conditional future draft pick. The Mavs also broke the bank on Warriors Forward Harrison Barnes and let Zaza Pachulia walk, who ironically enough was picked up by, guess who, the Golden State Warriors. Bogut was set to make $11 million in this, his final year in Golden State, but instead has been replaced by Pachulia for $2.9 million and ultimately, Kevin Durant.
2 Steve Kerr and Co.
When the stars of the NBA ponder free agency, there are three factors that most players look at. Money (of course), market and championship pedigree. New York, Los Angeles and Boston are primary examples of great basketball markets who can also offer a great deal of money, as they often flex their luxury tax muscles in the name of landing a big player. Golden State was a team with all three of these important factors. They had the money to sign Durant, an excellent and passionate basketball market and, of course, championship pedigree.
Steve Kerr has had one of the most successful all-around careers in the history of the NBA. As a player he won five rings as a member of Michael Jordan’s Bulls and as a coach won an NBA title with the Warriors last season. He has also been a member of the two greatest teams of all time (96 Bulls, 2016 Warriors) in both a player and coaching role. If a guy like Steve Kerr sat you down in a room, pulled out his rings, pulled out his 73 win card AND offered you the money that you were seeking, how could you say no to that? The Warriors internally have put themselves in a position to be the best landing spot for any free agent league-wide and that’s just a fact.
1 Steph Curry and the Selflessness of the Golden State Warriors
It will be extremely interesting to see how the Warriors respond to the acquisition of Kevin Durant this season, as if it is anything like I think it will be, we may need to make an NBA version of Mount Rushmore with Durant, Thompson, Curry and Draymond outside of Oracle Arena. The good news for the Warriors is that not only have they compiled a team of stars, but they have compiled a team of selfless, team-first superstar players.
Imagine a team of DeMarcus Cousins, James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson. On paper, a pretty unbelievable lineup, right? I can almost guarantee you, however, that this team would self-implode by Christmas if they were actually put together on an NBA team. The Warriors are different. Steph is willingly the fourth highest paid player on the team and understood that signing Kevin Durant could potentially lead to a decrease in attention and money in the future. Don’t get me wrong, Steph will get paid, it will just be a little different having to accommodate for all of these superstars. On the court, I cannot see these guys competing for who takes what shot and when, as they know that they are all capable of making the big shot in the moment and will trust one another. The Warriors have the perfect core and style of players