So Kevin Durant is now in Golden State, and the Warriors look on paper to be the most dominant team we may have ever seen. Two MVPs, four members of All-NBA, four All-Stars, but it's not just the raw talent for the Warriors, it's how they fit together.
This isn't the Heat with two players who were at their best at power forward in LeBron James and Chris Bosh, or two ball-dominant wings in James and Dwyane Wade. There's no real "figure it out" in terms of how the Warriors should play, only questions of how the ball should get distributed and what new wrinkles should be incorporated into the Warriors' pre-existing system.
There are no age concerns here. Steph Curry is the oldest of the core (if you don't count Andre Iguodala) at age 28, and he has four-to-six more years of his prime ahead of him if he can remain without another significant injury that requires surgery. This core should be entirely in its prime throughout the duration of Durant's five-year deal, after which Durant will be 32 and likely have several more good years left.
Not only is this a monstrous conglomeration of unfettered basketball stardom on one team, it fits together perfectly and has no foreseeable shelf life until after multiple championships were earned.
So, how could this possibly, ever, go wrong? We'll take a look at the scenarios, and how likely they are, but the biggest thing you should take away from this is how unlikely it is that the Warriors fail in their quest to succeed, right from the start.
SUPER-TEAMS ALWAYS TAKE A WHILE
The Heat didn't storm out of the gate, they sputtered, and even when they looked great in 2011, they never looked dominant. The 2014 Nets, who mortgaged their future for Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Kevin Garnett, fizzled in the second-round. The Clippers were uneven for Chris Paul's 2012 season in L.A. and didn't really hit a dominant stride until 2013. The 2008 Lakers failed to win the title and were still figuring things out (although they ultimately lost in the Finals to the one super-team that did figure it out from the start that year in the Boston Celtics).
We project that the Warriors will be beyond this because of their preexisting system; Durant isn't forming a new super-team, he's joining one. Still, often times these things are complicated and there's a reason that raw talent doesn't just go out and dominate and why last year's Warriors were the first team to top 72 wins in 20 seasons.
THERE ARE THINGS TO FIGURE OUT
Getting used to not having the same amount of usage is tough. Getting used to new spots is tough. The Warriors will use Durant more off-ball than he has ever been used in the past, and will likely shift Curry more off-ball than he's been used to. Finding where to put Draymond Green in terms of his touches and where gets more complicated. Can Durant handle setting screens consistently without wearing down to utilize him in pick-and-pops effectively? And oh, yeah, where does Klay Thompson fit into all this?
Basketball is ethereal and hard to understand how certain combinations work and some don't. Sometimes teams are good with one star player on the floor, and good with the other star player on the floor, but not good with both. Passes to Durant from Curry may need to be tweaked to find his comfort zone. Durant may have some shock to playing in a system that moves the ball as often as it does.
The issue with this, of course, is that it's just a matter of time. If you have the talent, you figure it out. It took the Lakers until mid-2009. It took the Heat until the start of the 2011-12 season (when they demolished the championship Mavs in Dallas on ring night). It takes some time, but it doesn't take forever, and given the head start this team has with continuity and coaching, it could be 2017-18, it could be the playoffs, it could be January or it could just work out of the box.
Also, having to figure things out hurts your margin for error, not necessarily your advantage. They can still win games while adjusting, it's a matter of hitting their stride.
TOO MANY USAGE RATES TO FEED
Durant had a usage rate, which is a factor of how many possessions a player uses while on the floor, of 30.6 last season. Curry was at 32.6, Thompson at 26.3 and Green at 18.8. These rates fluctuate depending on who else is on the floor (Durant's was higher when Russell Westbrook was off the floor, obviously, just as Draymond's was higher with Steph on the bench). That's still a crazy amount of possessions to spread around.
The Warriors are a rhythm team. They're at their best when everyone is firing on all cylinders. Curry launches relentlessly, but that's also a product of the pace they play at. Curry nails a three, the Warriors create a turnover, Curry pulls up and the defense freaks out so Curry passes to a wide-open Thompson. How do you add a Kevin Durant to that while still getting everyone shots, let alone getting anyone else on the team a look?
If you take away someone's role in the offense, or if you're consistently struggling to find touches for them, it creates frustration and takes them out of rhythm. Curry has to somehow manage to make sure Durant gets involved while also keeping his chemistry with Green and Thompson ... or finding the open man if it's another player like Iguodala, and the rest of the players have to as well.
Even if the Warriors are successful, if that dynamic isn't in sync, they won't play to the absolute best of their ability, which is the goal.
THE EGO FACTOR AND THE DISEASE OF MORE
And all of this leads to the concern about keeping everyone happy. Curry reportedly pitched Durant on the fact that he doesn't care about attention, stardom, or shoe sales, he just wants to win. Draymond Green was reportedly always in Durant's ear about joining the team. Klay Thompson doesn't talk much but hasn't expressed concern.
But NBA players want to be stars, and they want to feel that they get to do all the things they're capable of. That's a problem for backup role players and non-stars, let alone members of the greatest regular season team of all time.
Shane Battier told ESPN that Green, in particular, could be an issue going forward.
"[Green is] the key to that team," Battier says. "Pat Riley used to tell us about the Disease Of More. When you win, you want more. You want more respect, you want more shots, you want more shine. And you started to see that a bit this year with Draymond."
This, of course gets back to the halftime blowup from earlier this season in which Green was upset with Steve Kerr for not wanting him to shoot the ball. Green and Kerr have always had a healthy tension, with Kerr wanting to play thing safe and be measured and Green always pushing for the knockout punch, as well as wanting freedom.
If Curry and Durant click... what would they really need Green for, offensively? Defensively, he's the rock. He's the emotional engine. But as talented as Green is with his passing, he's still just a career 34 percent 3-point shooter, though he hit 39 percent last year and hit 37 percent in the playoffs. But is any shot from Draymond Green better than one from Durant, Thompson, or Curry?
There are ways around this, with Green running point forward when Curry is off the floor, or as the roll man when Durant sits just like old times. But this is a complicated dynamic that goes beyond X's and O's.
The Warriors' pitch for Durant was that stardom didn't matter, they were all equals. But that's not true. Curry is the star, and then Draymond and Thompson are lesser stars. Now Curry is a star, and Durant is a star, and Thompson and Green are lesser stars. They'll get fewer magazine covers. They'll get fewer media requests. They'll get less attention and praise and more criticism if anything goes wrong. That's the balance of these things.
Will they be OK with that?
It's a reasonable concern ... but it's also not one they haven't thought of. Green knew what he was doing when he recruited Durant. You'd think he knew what it would mean for him but also what the Warriors were capable of. That's been the difference with this Warriors team. They are, in many ways, the first really self-aware super-team. Ego sunk Shaq and Kobe, Harden and Howard, Howard and Kobe, Howard and SVG ... OK, we're getting into a pattern here. But it also really strained the Bulls, even with Scottie Pippen and Jordan. Ego strained a lot of the greatest teams of all time.
The Warriors haven't had that problem, and that's a testament to both the mental awareness of their players, and how the team has encouraged and supported them. The Warriors know what they can accomplish with Durant, and seem set going in on making that sacrifice for what they can achieve.
The question is how it will feel when it actually goes down.
INJURIES ... A LOT OF INJURIES
This one's obvious, so we're not going to spend a lot of time on it.
Yes, if Curry suffers a radical injury, that changes everything about the Warriors. If Green goes down, they're without a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. If Durant's foot problem pops back up, that's going to create huge issues given their depth concerns.
But also keep in mind that the Warriors can afford some time off for these guys. If it's a Tuesday in February and they are facing the Bucks (who, yes, did beat the Warriors last season) or Suns, and the metrics they keep for health evaluation say that Durant needs a night off, or Curry's ankle is bothering him, or Green's red-lining for fatigue, they can sit a guy, and still cruise. Because they will still have either three core members of the 73-win team from last year, or two members and Durant.
If Curry sprains an ankle and needs four weeks off? More time for Durant and Thompson to develop chemistry. If Green has a hamstring problem? Hey, it gets Zaza Pachulia more involved and opens up more time for veteran David West.
The depth for Golden State has been compromised, for sure. That can't be denied. But they still have so much firepower that they can sustain some injuries and still beat most teams on any given night. It would take multiple players suffering significant injuries to really slow them down, and the same could be said for the playoffs. Curry was nowhere near 100 percent for the entire duration of the playoffs and the Warriors were still one quarter away from winning the NBA championship for the second time in two years ... and they just added Kevin Durant!
Injuries are a problem for every team, but with the firepower they have, it would take an absolute catastrophic run of them for the Warriors to really suffer for it.
It's not physical, as stated above, they can manage that. It's mental. The Warriors have to sustain the mental edge to return to the NBA Finals for a third year, something that's very difficult. The Warriors have always found motivation. Teams called them lucky last year, so they won 24 consecutive games to start the season before finishing with 73. They feed off any conceptual disrespect they can find. They exaggerate their haters to make themselves more amped.
Losing the Finals, especially when they were so close, is likely to help things. But there's still the drain of these long seasons back to back to back. Plus, with them being such heavy favorites, the Warriors became sloppy last year which helped lead to their playoff struggles (along with Curry's injury and their defensive slippage). Maintaining an edge for seven months of the year is difficult. Doing so for 21 of 36 months is brutally tough.
On top of that, the Warriors will get each team's best effort every night. Beating the Warriors will become even more of a signature win than it was last year. Many NBA players reacted on Twitter with a level of resentment. The Warriors were popular for a while, but the Durant move seems to significantly compromise the rest of the league's ability to compete. That's going to anger what are the most competitive basketball players on the planet.
There's also the public perception side. The Warriors are villains, like never before. Their team and fans will talk about what Oklahoma City did to create this, about how they did nothing wrong, and they're right. There is no wrong here. But this is sports and that is fundamentally made up of teams being rooted for or against. The Warriors will be rooted against like no other.
For Durant, who according to multiple outlets was very concerned with how this move would be perceived, that could be tiresome. Even when Durant started to bristle at media attention in the last few years and develop more of an attitude, he was always beloved. He was the lovable Kevin Durant, who grew up in the spotlight for that plucky Thunder team. Now he's the guy who abandoned the franchise he helped build and left Oklahoma in the dust to join the arrogant-because-we-deserve-to-be Warriors.
That weight really dragged down LeBron James in 2011. It was hard on him, he admitted as much. It took until 2012 for him to shrug off the villain persona and rediscover his joy. This is going to be hard for Kevin Durant, more than it will be for the Warriors, even if the on-court stuff is easy. How that affects his game will be something to watch.
THEY HAVE LITTLE RIM PROTECTION
Pachulia is Golden State's starting center, and he's older than Andrew Bogut. David West is their back-up power forward, and after that it's Kevin Looney. The Warriors always set the tone against teams with their ability to throw Bogut out in the starting lineup and shut down the paint. Now Green is the only real rim protector. Durant can block shots, to be sure, and Green is phenomenal, but that's a lot of pressure to put on Green and Durant will still primarily guard a lot of perimeter options, especially in the Warriors' switch-heavy defense.
Pachulia had 22 blocks last year, compared to Green's 113 and Bogut's 114. Per Nylon Calculus, Green saved 0.69 points per 36 minutes at the rim, along with Bogut's stellar 2.10 points per 36 minutes. Pachulia saved 0.08 points per 36 minutes, comparable with Willie Caulie-Stein and Jared Sullinger.
So this is going to be a bit of an issue they'll have to figure out.
Oh, yes, right, that LeBron James fellow. The Warriors had a super-team last year. They won 73 games. They were the best regular-season team of all time. They didn't win the title.
If anything, last year showed us that high probability does not equal inevitability. As set in stone and established as the NBA hierarchy is, this is still sports, and crazy things happen in sports. LeBron James proved that he can rise to a level that is better than Draymond Green's defense, Steph Curry's offense or the Warriors' overall firepower. He's just better.
Kyrie Irving didn't go anywhere. Kevin Love didn't go anywhere. Tristan Thompson, who gave the Warriors fits, is still there. Everyone is still there.
The Warriors will be the favorites, but they are still going to have to go through the Cavaliers. That's how this works.
OVERALL, THOUGH ...
The fact is that the Warriors can figure out a way to create some depth with veteran players on minimum contracts. They can configure a good paint-protection defense like Charlotte did without elite rim protection. They can overcome giving up layups because they have the most devastating 3-point attack in the history of basketball ... and they added Kevin Durant.
They can suffer injuries to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Draymond Green because they still have the core of that 73-win team ... and they added Kevin Durant.
They can be mentally tired and worn out, they can have trouble establishing chemistry or dealing with disruptions to their continuity and have a bad bench, and still win 74 games or more, because they have one of the best teams in NBA history, motivated and frustrated after blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals ... and they added Kevin Durant.
The Cavaliers can be as good as they were last year, or better, and the Warriors can still win because they were up 3-1 and had a lead going into the fourth quarter of Game 7 at home ... and they added Kevin Durant.
This is the story of the season. It's the Warriors, the Cavs and everyone else in the NBA's version of the NIT. It's "Who will be the runner-up?" time in the NBA. Are there ways the Warriors could fall apart? Sure.
But in the end, the Golden State Warriors added Kevin Durant, and while their success and dominance is not inevitable or set in stone ... it sure is probable.