Even as the Warriors charged through a record-setting 73-win season that ends in the Finals – maybe with a second straight championship – some Golden State executives and players were predicting the team would sign Kevin Durant this summer.
One problem: Even with the salary cap skyrocketing, the Warriors won’t have enough cap space for Durant.
How do those players handle the rumors while trying to help this team win a title?
“Guys have definitely asked questions,” center Andrew Bogut told NBA.com. “We’re not immune to it. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the rumors, heard the rumors, all that kind of stuff. Different guys at different times have been scratching their head and thinking, ‘Why?’ The only way we can dispel all that stuff is maybe we’ve got to win five straight. Who knows? It’s one of those things we can’t really control, but we can control trying to make them make a tough decision.”
Why? Simple: The 2016-17 Warriors can’t be the 2015-16 Warriors.
If Golden State were guaranteed to remain a 73-win team as long it kept these exact players, adding Durant would be foolish, even if it meant a chance of winning 80 games. A team that wins 73 games is probably going to win the title.
But the Warriors obviously aren’t guaranteed anything, and all indications are that the players who might be moved will be less valuable next year.
Bogut is 31. Iguodala is 32. Livingston is 30. These players are likely to decline.
Barnes will almost certainly draw max offers this summer, and Ezeli could, too. At minimum, Ezeli will get a huge raise. Those two aren’t as valuable on large contracts, and Barnes being the team’s highest-paid player could cause dissension.
So, don’t look at it as Golden State breaking up a 73-win team for Durant. Look at it as Golden State potentially breaking up a future team with an unknown record – though likely a very good team – for Durant.
Plus, if the Warriors’ theoretical choice isn’t simply Durant or no Durant. It’s Durant or Durant on an opponent. There’s value in disrupting the Thunder, who really challenged Golden State in the Western Conference finals. If the Warriors pass on Durant, he could go to the Spurs and make them even better.
I don’t envy the current Warriors who could be expendable for Durant. Job uncertainty isn’t fun – especially when you’re doing such a great work for your employer.
But it’s Kevin freaking Durant. It’s not that hard to figure out why Golden State is interested.