Grades: Warriors outdo themselves with Kevin Durant blockbuster deal
An organization that has consistently set records and pushed boundaries over the last two years just outdid itself again.
The Warriors have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent forward Kevin Durant to a two-year contract worth $54 million, with a player option on the second season. Durant, 27, averaged 28.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 5 APG while earning All-NBA Second Team honors in Oklahoma City last season. The 2014 MVP and seven-time All-Star departs the Thunder after nine seasons with the franchise with which he made four trips to the Western Conference finals and one Finals trip.
This isn’t just a signing, this is a league-shaking coup. Fresh off a 2015 title and a record-setting 73 wins in 2016, Golden State has set itself up for five or six solid years as title contenders by adding Durant to an in-their-prime core that already consisted of All-NBA selections Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
In Curry and Durant, the Warriors can claim the NBA’s two most efficient volume scorers. In Curry, Thompson and Durant, the Warriors have the best shooting trio ever. And, with Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Green, the Warriors boast a five-man lineup that is lethal on offense, vicious on defense, and loaded with team-first pieces that are committed to the greater good. No one, not the champion Cavaliers or the Spurs or anyone else, can match that quintet’s talent, versatility and two-way balance on paper. Last year’s Warriors averaged 114.9 PPG, the most the NBA had seen since 1992. Throw in Durant, a four-time scoring champion with no holes in his offensive game, and 116 PPG, or 118 PPG, or 120 PPG feels possible.
The Warriors’ “Death Lineup” posted absurd efficiency differentials over the last two seasons, but it faltered late in the 2016 Finals for two major reasons: Curry and Thompson couldn’t generate consistent offense off the dribble, and Harrison Barnes couldn’t make the Cavaliers pay for leaving him open. Durant beautifully fixes both those problems, as he’s spent his entire career creating offense in tight spaces and he certainly isn’t going to shy from the moment like Barnes.
Defensively, Durant proved in the Western Conference finals that he can be a force on that end, too. He’s longer, more aggressive and better at rebounding than Barnes and, like Green, he’s capable of grabbing a defensive rebound and immediately initiating a transition opportunity. If you thought teams struggled to keep the Warriors’ fast break attack in check this season, imagine what will happen when Durant joins the push-the-pace party.
This is self-evident, but also true and worth repeating now that it’s actually a reality: Durant is significantly better than Barnes in every way that truly matters, and his addition should make the Warriors’ ultra-efficient five-man group climb to unprecedented heights.
Adding Durant solidifies the Warriors’ status as 2017 title favorites, no question about it, in part because the Thunder went from being perhaps their biggest hypothetical challenger in the West to no longer in the picture. With the Spurs potentially losing Tim Duncan to retirement and the Cavaliers losing Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova to free agency without making any major roster additions (yet), the Warriors stand as the free agency period’s biggest winners by far.
Creating the necessary cap room for Durant will require multiple moves: Barnes will reportedly sign with the Mavericks, starting center Andrew Bogut will reportedly be traded to the Mavericks in a salary dump, and back-up center Festus Ezeli will enter free agency. While those moves do create a hole in the middle, Bogut and Ezeli battled injuries during the season and both faltered during the Finals. The Warriors will want to add a cheap big body (or two) as injury insurance protection, but there’s little question that they will want to play smaller and with more versatility when push comes to shove in next year’s postseason. When you think about it, Golden State didn’t need to sacrifice all that much of its “strength in numbers” to add a player who will very likely retire as one the NBA’s top 10 all-time scorers.
The Warriors have done nothing short of constructing a superteam, and they deserve full credit for the execution of their successful recruiting pitch, which reportedly included owner Joe Lacob, the team’s star players, and even a phone call from Hall of Famer Jerry West. As a result of landing Durant, Golden State’s roster now represents 25% of USA Basketball’s Olympic team and it features two MVPs, two scoring champs, four All-Stars, and four All-NBA selections (all of whom are 28 or younger). The Warriors’ fourth-best player once scored 37 points in a single quarter and their fifth-best player was named Finals MVP. Give me a break.
With all of that in mind, the best-case scenario for this experiment is a word not often spoken in the modern NBA: Dynasty.