February 15, 2019

1.) Kevin Durant is signing with the Golden State Warriors. First reaction? 

Bryan Toporek: Congratulations to the 2016-17 NBA champion Golden State Warriors. And 2017-18 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, and 2018-19 NBA champion Golden State Warriors…

In all seriousness, I’m stunned. Financially, Durant effectively had to sign a two-year deal with a second-year player option, but I figured he’d re-up in OKC and decide upon his ultimate landing spot next summer in conjunction with Russell Westbrook. Thanks to Stephen Curry’s paltry $18 million cap hold in the summer of 2017, though, it doesn’t matter that Golden State won’t have KD’s Bird rights. According to cap expert Albert Nahmad, the Warriors should have enough space to give Durant a max deal next summer (based on the projected $107 million salary cap) before re-signing Curry. Any players upset with Durant’s decision only have themselves to blame, as the players’ union’s decision to decline cap smoothing effectively made this scenario possible.

James Holas: Excited disappointment. Just a few short weeks ago, Kevin Durant had his foot on the necks of these same Warriors: a 3-1 series lead with a game left on their home floor.
OKC blew the series, and Kevin Durant turned his back on nine years of blood, sweat, and tears to go join forces with a bitter rival. I completely get it from his standpoint. For purely “basketball reasons,” as he’s said, it makes sense: more talent, less responsibility, less individual pressure.

But as an NBA fan, seeing the best players in the world square off is what it’s all about, and “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” dulls that air of competition a bit. I’m not mad, not disgusted, and I’ll tune in like everyone else to catch a glimpse of what arguably the best starting five of all time can do next season.
A ring (or two, or three) with Golden State certainly legitimizes Durant’s career resume, I can’t help but feel this decision somewhat tarnishes his legacy.

Morten Stig Jensen: Surprised at how unsurprised I was. This makes sense for him. You have the league MVP, one of the best shooting guard,s and an all-around beast of a human being at your disposal, effectively saving your legs for the playoffs. There is a complete Spurs vibe over these Warriors now, in the sense that no rotation player needs to crack 30 minutes a night, and everyone’s personal scoring averages is nothing but a big yawn. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Durant, Curry, and Klay all settle into some 18 points a night each scenario while their combined TS% reaches about a million.

Sarah Cilea: I guess I’m not as shocked as some of my fellow writers here.  I thought he’d go back to Oklahoma but I wasn’t surprised he was looking at the Warriors.  They’re really freaking good.  If he can play with them, why not?  Of course, Durant had always said he wanted to stay in Oklahoma, but he was not quite as adamant of late.  It is disappointing to see the Thunder team that gave us such a great playoff run dissolve.

Other than that, I’m interested to see how it pans out.  I talked about it some on Twitter but to restate, the Warriors should (and will) be very good, but depth and likely rim protection will take a hit.  How much, if at all, will it matter?  Will the regular season just be a redux of 2016?  Hopefully the Golden State show will be fun enough to make up for the lack of parity.

Vivek Jacob: Shocked. Stunned. Still trying to come to terms. How could he ditch Russ and OKC after what they accomplished?

Durant’s performance in Game 6 is the reason they didn’t close out the Warriors. There’s no shame in losing two games to the Warriors on the road, but to have the opportunity to close them out at home and shoot 10-for-31 with a ton of rushed jumpers is what OKC fans will remember now.

Also, why are players complaining? They are the ones that did not want to ease the cap in and caused this.

2.) On paper, is this the greatest NBA team ever assembled? 

Bryan Toporek: It has to be, right? The Warriors just won 73 games last season, surpassing the once-thought-unbreakable record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They’re now adding a four-time scoring champion while only subtracting Harrison Barnes, who went MIA for a good portion of the Finals, and their two top centers in Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. They’re reportedly planning on starting the Death Lineup, per Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News, except they’re replacing Barnes with the 2013-14 league MVP. Their lack of big man depth is a concern for now, but I’d guess they’ll address that with their room exception, luring a ring-chasing center to join a budding dynasty.

James Holas: Sure, you could say “on paper,” this is probably the greatest starting 5 in history. But let’s not forget that those 80’s Celtics had Bill Walton coming off the bench and HOFers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and Robert Parish. Steph and Durant are amazing; do they overshadow a Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman-Toni Kukoc 72 win Bulls?

It sounds cliché and hot takey, but if we’re talking “greatest all-time”, then the ring’s the thing. We’ll revisit this question in a year (being real, this Warriors team will probably burn down the NBA).

Morten Stig Jensen: Yes. No question. I don’t need to go through their resumes, but two MVP’s, two additional current All-Stars and a defensive-minded 6th man with All-Star experience as well? Game over.

Sarah Cilea: Yup.  I can’t think of any other with this many MVPs/All-NBAers/Top 10-15 players all in their prime–that latter part being key.  Nevermind that with the equal opportunity system they run they actually have the chance to maximize their potential, an underrated aspect of the “superteam” landscape.

Vivek Jacob: Yes. KD > Bogut, Ezeli, Barnes. Still want to see how the rest of the roster will fill out, but in the playoffs, with an eight-man rotation, they’re going to be insane. Injuries look to be the only thing that could derail them. They will set records for number of games where they’ve attempted more threes than twos, most three-point attempts, most three-point makes, and best three-point percentage in a game. The fact that Klay Thompson or Draymond Green is the fourth best player on a team is mind boggling. Defensively, they should be even more imposing with KD’s length compared to Barnes.

One thing that did hurt the Warriors in Games 6 and 7 was not being able to go to Bogut early and get their offense in sync so it will be interesting to see how they start out games going forward.

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3.) League MVP prediction for next year?

Bryan Toporek: LeBron James. The Warriors may win 70-plus games for the second straight season, but similar to how voters refused to give James the MVP in 2010-11 after he left Cleveland for Miami, I don’t believe a single Warriors player will stand out enough to merit the distinction. James, meanwhile, will be riding high off winning the 2016 title and may receive some goodwill for being the contrast to the SuperFriends Warriors, as ironic as that may be. Since everyone and their mother will be pre-emptively crowning the Warriors as 2017 champions, I expect ‘Bron to come out hot and prove that the title race isn’t just a one-team chase.

Dark-horse candidate: Russell Westbrook. Prepare yourself for the most epic “Eff You” campaign in NBA history.

James Holas: The MVP debates are fun, but usually boil down to “best player on one of the best teams.” Russell Westbrook’s triple-double theatrics for a suddenly deflated Thunder team will steal headlines, and Chris Paul’s metronome efficiency will get some MVP buzz, but if you’re not top two in your respective conference, you really don’t have a shot.
It’s a pretty safe bet that the Warriors, the Spurs, and the Cavs will again be elite. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant will steal votes from each other, and Kawhi Leonard’s all around excellence will fly under the radar (again), it’s the Spurs way.

Enter LeBron James, rejuvenated and reinvigorated by Cleveland’s championship run. King James kicks it up a just tick above cruise control for most of the year, just to show the world who’s boss. Book it, the MVP is in the bag.

Morten Stig Jensen:  Russell Motherfreaking Westbrook. Look, the Thunder have a nice squad still. But now, it’s all Westbrook’s team. He’s going to go so utterly bananas that the share foundation of NBA logic will be shaken to its core. He was the closest since Magic Johnson to average a triple-double, and while I deem those somewhat worthless, it does prove that Westbrook’s ability to be everywhere at once is a huge asset for the Thunder. He’ll have 17+ rebound games. He’ll have 18+ assists games. He’ll probably have a few 55+ scoring games, and a 60-point performance to top it off while leading the Thunder to the third best record in the Western Conference.

Sarah Cilea: Russy. Darkhorse LeBron?

Vivek Jacob: I still feel the media owes LeBron a “Sorry we ever doubted you and momentarily replaced you with Steph Curry,” MVP award and I’m sticking with it. Far too often we take his greatness for granted, and a 1-3 deficit against a 73-win team was the best thing that ever happened for his legacy. What he did over the next three games will never be forgotten and I think there will be that much more appreciation for what he does on a nightly basis because of it.

Westbrook obviously looks a serious candidate if he remains in OKC. My sleeper pick is Karl Anthony-Towns. Dude’s a winner and he’ll have Thibs by his side. They went 10-10 over the final 20 games of the season and that was with Sam Mitchell. I still want to see what type of deal they can get for Rubio (if they find a deal at all) but 45+ wins and a playoff berth should put him firmly in the running.
4.) Where do the Oklahoma City Thunder stand now, and where do they go from here? 

Bryan Toporek: Short term, they’ll survive. A starting five of Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams with Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, Ersan Ilyasova, Mitch McGary and Domantas Sabonis off the bench should be good for around 45-50 wins. Durant’s departure does beg the question of what the Thunder do with Westbrook, though. Assuming he doesn’t agree to an extension this summer (which he shouldn’t, solely for financial reasons), can OKC stomach another season of free-agency speculation? Will the Thunder risk being left empty-handed again if he does decide to depart next summer? If Boston, Minnesota or another team with a boatload of draft picks and young players comes calling, the Thunder have to at least consider trading Westbrook this season, right?

James Holas: You’ve got to feel a little bad for the Thunder. Following a thrilling deep playoff run that few saw coming, to go from five minutes from making the finals to losing their franchise cornerstone must be a kick in the stomach.

There’s no time to hang their heads. Russell Westbrook’s contract is up next summer; and GM Sam Presti has some stark realities to face. If he sees the sign that Westbrook isn’t cool with staying next summer, he has to start looking at reaping the best haul possible for the superstar point guard.
Steven Adams and new acquisition Victor Oladipo are up for huge contracts as well. Can coach Billy Donovan sell them both as being young future cornerstones? Are both (or either) worth that kind of investment moving forward for a franchise on the brink of a total rebuild?

As it stands, a lineup of Westbrook-Oladipo-Andre Roberson-Enes Kanter-Adams is decent; no real threat to the upper echelon, but should be competitive. Durant taking off means Dion Waiters most likely will be around as well, unless Presti can engineer some maneuvering to bring in… someone.

All in all, this was the worst possible outcome for the Thunder, a franchise shifting loss as deflating as we’ve seen since Bron made The Decision. Presti will earn every bit of his salary trying to keep the Oklahoma City franchise afloat.

Morten Stig Jensen: Never fear, Sabonis is here. The Thunder made one hell of a trade at draft time, and they’re sneaky loaded. Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Domantas Sabonis, Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne.. That’s a lively squad right there, and they might even pick someone up in free agency. Losing Durant is a huge hit, obviously, but Sam Presti prepared himself, and what’s left now isn’t some rotten core of over-the-hill players. The Thunder is young up-and-coming franchise who can still be a Top 3 team in the West, and their future outlook is surprisingly bright. Not as bright as it would have been with Durant, but bright nonetheless.

Sarah Cilea: They’re okay, for now.  Westrbook, Oladipo, Roberson, Kanter, Adams.  Obviously they’re hurting at the small forward position now but could certainly be worse off.  As Mr. Toporek said, the trade looks pretty good now.  The biggest question mark is Westbrook’s impending free agency.  I’d love to see OKC continue to build around Westrbook but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to convince him to stay.  I have a hunch Westrbook is the type of competitor who would savor the challenge and opportunity of being the undisputed “man” on his team, but can Presti be sure that team will be located in Oklahoma City?  Given their history, it seems likely the Thunder will explore trade options for Westrbook.  Even if they end up moving him, though it would complete the lamentable disassembly of an incredibly talented team in too short a span, the franchise could still be set up for the future.  No doubt Westrbook would bring a substantial haul.

Vivek Jacob: As currently constructed, they are still a playoff team. The Westbrook-Adams pick and roll will still thrive and Oladipo gives them a legitimate two-way option at shooting guard. Spacing will be an issue. The team is now sorely lacking in outside shooting with the departures of Durant, and obviously to a lesser extent, Ibaka.

The future is definitely a concern, and if I’m Sam Presti, I’m on the phone trying to see what I can get for Westbrook. He’s had a history of being proactive and moving Westbrook for picks and youth makes a lot of sense. To piggyback off what Bryan said, Minnesota and Boston probably have the most appeal in terms of young assets.

5.) What other fallout might we see from this? 

Bryan Toporek: As I tweeted earlier, Durant’s decision could have major implications for the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Small-market owners are going to want more incentives in the next CBA to entice players to re-sign with their incumbent teams. Clearly, a small advantage in annual raises (7.5 percent vs. 4.5 percent) and the ability to offer an extra year on a contract isn’t enough to retain superstars, who are often making just as much (if not more) than their annual salary via off-court endeavors. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see owners push for a “supermax,” or an increase in the percentage of the cap that each max contract can be, as I proposed last summer on this very website. If Durant could consume 40 percent of a team’s cap space rather than 30, he almost assuredly stays in OKC for one more season.

James Holas: As I alluded to earlier, i wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook’s camp wanted him elsewhere, either this season or next summer. The Spurs and the Cavs are on notice, Golden State just raised the bar exponentially. The Clippers may look at the landscape and realize that standing Pat isn’t the answer; hamstrung by the cap and overly top heavy with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul, it may be time to bust it up in Clipperland.
Much like LeBron-Wade-Bosh joining forces in 2010, Durant joining the 73 win Warriors is a seismic shift, a landmark event in the NBA.

Morten Stig Jensen: Opponents forfeiting games against the Warriors by halftime when they’re down 52?

Sarah Cilea: Honestly, I’m a little concerned about the future of the league.  These contracts are fun, as are players wielding more control, but it feels unsustainable in its current state.  What happens when the Kawhis, Griffins and Westbrooks look at Mozgov and Barnes and start to ask for what they’re worth?  I live in fear of CBA unrest.

Vivek Jacob: The biggest fallout has to be the cap situation. The rookie scale, mid-level, veteran’s minimum and max percentages all need to be reviewed for the next CBA. A potentially terrible fallout from this could be more super teams. The thinking among stars around the league will be that if LeBron and KD can do it, why can’t I? The rich will get richer.

This completes the transition of Golden State from darlings of the NBA to Enemy No.1

From Draymond’s karate kicks to their overall arrogance, the KD move means LeBron will play his first season in the league as the biggest hero in the league. Superman vs. Apocalypse or Monstars or whatever name you want to give them.
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