Kevin Durant to the Warriors: How Big Is the Impact on the NBA?
We've been here before.
As a matter of fact, in just three days, it will be six years since LeBron James made his decision to leave the team that drafted him in order to create a super team in Miami. After all is said and done, things have worked out for him.
Can the same be said for his fellow superstar forward and former MVP, Kevin Durant?
I say this because, after playing nine of his first nine NBA seasons in Oklahoma City (one technically in Seattle with the SuperSonics), Durant has decided to depart OKC for greener pastures out west.
After announcing his decision via The Player's Tribune, Durant signed a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, reportedly worth $54.3 million and consisting of a player option for the 2017-18 season.
But, what does this all mean? How does this one decision affect not only the player but the grand scheme of things in today's NBA?
For the month-plus leading up to his decision, the main concern for KD, as well as NBA fans and analysts alike, was his legacy as an NBA star. Everyone wondered what should and what would Durant do in order to improve upon his legacy as a great player.
After choosing to join Stephen Curry and company in Oakland, over the likes of the Celtics, Clippers, Spurs and the incumbent Thunder, many didn't believe Durant made the right choice.
Don't give a damn what anyone says: weak move by KD. You go to GSW, the team who beat you, when you're already on a title contender? Please!
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 4, 2016
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith echoed the popular opinion (and that of my own at the time), that Durant's decision wouldn't improve his legacy. In its reaction, Twitter labeled him a coward, a traitor, and a loser.
Depending upon your perspective, he could be a coward or a traitor, sure. But, loser? No way.
It may be the unpopular (and more thoughtful) opinion, but Durant made the decision that, in his own mind, was best for him. He was given the freedom to choose, and with his best winning interest in mind, that's what he did.
Under the count the rings mentality, the Warriors were the perfect match.
So, depending who you are and how you look at it, Durant might've done his image a disservice for now. But, with an eye toward winning rings, Durant probably just made the best decision of his career.
What does this monstrous signing do for a team coming off of a 73-9 regular season? Without hesitation, it makes them better. It makes them that much more of a favorite to win the title this coming season.
How much so?
Prior to Monday morning's announcement, the Warriors were 3-2 favorites to win the NBA championship, according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. Not too long after the so-called power move was made, Golden State jumped all the way to 4-5 odds to return to the top of the NBA world for the second time in three seasons. There really isn't any reason to expect otherwise.
In Durant, the Warriors are getting (outside of a player who just about led his team past his new team in this past season's Western Conference Finals) the league's 2013-14 MVP, former scoring champion, and third-leading scorer from the 2015-16 season.
In 72 regular season games, KD scored 28.2 points per contest as he also tallied a career-best 8.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He also finished the year among the NBA's best in several categories.
|Kevin Durant 2015-16||NBA Rank|
|Player Efficiency Rating||2nd|
|Offensive Win Shares||2nd|
|Win Shares per 48 Minutes||3rd|
|Value Over Replacement Player||5th|
With the tandem of Curry and Durant, the Warriors will sport the top two players in our nERD metric (which measures a player's total contribution throughout the course of a season, based on efficiency, and gives an estimate of how many games over .500 a league-average team would be with that player as one of their starters), and three players with rankings of at least 10.0, including Green with a score of 10.2. Add in Thompson, who, with a score of 6.0, finished 13th among all NBA guards, and the team appears unstoppable on paper.
For those of you wondering, Harrison Barnes is now the odd man out and will be playing in Dallas come next season. No worries for the Dubs, though -- according to nERD, Durant is a 17.5-win improvement over Barnes at the small forward position.
In the decision, Oklahoma City has lost. And, as much as it hurts, it goes way beyond the feelings of bitter OKC residents.
The Thunder are losing the same amount of wins (17.5, based on our nERD metric) that the Warriors are gaining. And if the chips fail to fall just right, they could be looking at an even bigger loss.
According to sources, the Thunder are mulling their options with superstar point guard, Russell Westbrook. The problem is that Westbrook is a free agent after this coming season, so in a worst-case scenario, the Thunder would be starless going into the 2017-18 NBA season, a big blow to the small-market team.
The exact measure of that blow would be the value of 34.4 wins, as the once-dubbed Thunder buddies combined for a nERD of 34.4 in this past year's campaign. The two All-Stars were the only teammates to rank within the top five in our in-house metric.
I'm sure the Thunder want to avoid losing that type of production, especially all at once. How can they do that? Basically, they have two options.
The first option is for the Thunder to find a way to convince Westbrook to extend his contract and stay with OKC as the team's franchise player for now and years to come. If he stays and agrees to an extension, he's the guy and will produce at a career-high level this season. His efficiency will likely suffer, but he's now in a situation where he'll have to carry the load.
On the other hand, if the Thunder decide to, or have to, pursue the second option, Westbrook would be headed elsewhere via trade. It would be a complete blow to the Thunder's hopes of winning now, and they would be forced to build around what they now have. However, a trade now would certainly yield the Thunder a decent haul of young players and/or draft picks, a much different scenario than if he leaves during free agency after next season.
Adding a few young players and draft picks to the current team, which includes Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne, and the group from the Serge Ibaka trade -- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the young Domantas Sabonis -- doesn't sound all that bad, all things considered.
Don't get me wrong. There's no way the Thunder want to lose Westbrook. He's a franchise player, one who brings a lot of passion and excitement to the floor every night. A backcourt pairing of he and Oladipo will be a sight to see, but it will be some time before they compete for a title, especially with the shift of power to Golden State and San Antonio.
We all understand now that, with Durant's decision, the Warriors are beyond stacked and the Thunder are on the brink of franchise overhaul.
The aftermath of this gigantic shift is pretty unlimited in the grand scheme of things.
As you could imagine, the Thunder have gone from 8-1 odds on May 29th to win the next NBA title to 30-1 odds after the Independence Day decision. The Warriors, again, went from 3-2 to 4-5.
What about the other main players?
|NBA Title Odds||Open||Post-Decision|
|San Antonio Spurs||6-1||8-1|
|Los Angeles Clippers||16-1||20-1|
Clearly, the odds are against the 29 other NBA teams. This super team has the oddsmakers in awe, and if the Warriors can manage to stay healthy, NBA fans could be tuning out by November.
On the other hand, it will be very interesting to see if and how many times they lose. Will the stars gel right away, or will it take some time to get the train rolling? I'll be tuning in for sure, but I won't be surprised if this causes problems for the NBA later in the season -- let alone down the road.
All in all, Durant made a great decision that stands to benefit he and his new team in a very positive way. But, as for the landscape of the NBA, it might only be a matter of time before we see negative effects of a team that's just too good.