Golden State is the defending NBA champion. They have done that in part due to a deep and versatile roster filled with high IQ players who can adapt on the fly to what other teams throw at them. This season that has worked well enough to have the team at 50-5 — they are the fastest team to 50 wins in NBA history and are on pace to break the 1996 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins. Golden State is the clear favorite to win another NBA title.
Why would you break that roster up?
Two words: Kevin Durant.
We don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent this summer — safe bet that even Durant doesn’t know — but there’s a lot of speculation around the league about him bolting OKC to head to Golden State. The Warriors can pull it off and keep their stars, but it would mess with their depth. That has some in the Warriors camp hesitant, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.
Most of the two-dozen or so team executives I polled over the past two weeks on the Durant-Warriors possibility described it as a no-brainer (“Bench smench,” texted one GM), but there is some division within the Warriors, and you can understand why. They might have the best basketball team ever assembled! How can you shake that up? They are obliterating victims by about 13 points per 100 possessions. Unless the league adds a 4-point shot or lengthens the game, it is almost literally impossible to get any better. And the Warriors have already been proven right choosing continuity over a sweet-shooting shiny object in Kevin Love.
Signing Durant would carry risk, especially with Festus Ezeli‘s future unclear after another knee surgery. Signing Durant with cap room would cost Golden State Harrison Barnes, and at least two of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut and Ezeli. The Warriors would have to offload two of those guys into someone else’s cap space, and they are privately worried they might have to attach one or even two future first-round picks to grease the wheels.
The Warriors would be sacrificing future flexibility and depth for a big four that likely would win them another ring. Or three.
That’s where the Warriors are — they are trying to win titles (and 73 games) to establish a legacy. They want to go down with the all-time great teams, the ones that dominated an era. They are as win now as it gets — and that’s why jumping at Durant makes sense. Add Durant to that roster, win a couple more titles after this season, and we will be talking about this era’s Warriors in the same breath as other great teams in their era. KD is a gamble, but he gets them closer to that legacy.
The question becomes, is this what Durant wants. He’d be in Curry’s shadow in terms of popularity with the fan base, and he would have to blend into the team play — not just trading isolation sets — that the Warriors rely on in critical moments. It would be better for his personal brand to head to a team he can lift to contender status (likely in the East) and challenge for a ring that way by getting past LeBron James and the Cavaliers (easier said than done).
But if KD is all about the rings, Golden State might be the only place closer to one than where he is right now. And in the end, he may choose to stay put, for at least one more year.