Durant to the Warriors: The world is changing
The concept of the Golden State Warriors being relevant, much less an integral part of the NBA, is still foreign to me. When I was living in San Francisco, the 49ers played into January and then we all waited around for Giants baseball to start.
The Warriors just reeked. Starting in the 1977-78 through 2011-12, the Bay Area’s basketball team made the NBA Playoffs six times — six bleeping times in 35 years. It’s hard to be that bad, people, with the lottery and 16 teams qualifying for the postseason out of a league as small as 24 before expansion. Yet the Warriors did it with staggeringly awful first-round picks like Joe Barry Carroll, Chris Washburn and Joe Smith.
Even when they picked a good player like Penny Hardaway or Vince Carter, the Warriors traded away success.
So I’ve been downright amused to see the Warriors among the elite of the NBA with a title in 2015 and Game 7 loss to the Cavaliers in this summer’s NBA Finals to the Cavaliers.
And now the Warriors have just signed Kevin Durant?
What does one make of this?
I claim no allegiance to the Warriors like I do the Giants and Niners. Baseball is the family blood and growing up in San Francisco in the 1980s made everyone a football fan. (I will go to my grave with my Giants World Series rings and the simple fact that Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback ever. Period.)
But the fact that the Warriors are elite brings up a number of issues about the state of the NBA.
Where have all the big men gone?
Seriously, this ain’t the NBA of old. Leaf through the history of the league, excuse me, the Association, and it’s all about the big man — George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal.
The Warriors have been on the forefront of small ball, and who can argue with their success? Look at this year’s Finals — the Cavs didn’t have a true big man either.
As the Warriors wandered in the desert all those years, the team’s quest was a acquiring that big man to feed at the post. In fact, the reason the Draft Lottery is weighted is because the Warriors, who not so surprisingly had the worst record in the NBA after the 1984-85 season, missed out on Ewing, who ended up with the Knicks.
In the wake of signing Durant, the Warriors have traded Andrew Bogut, the closest thing they have to a big man, to the Dallas. Golden State, the prohibitive favorite for next season’s title, at least according to the money that has gushed in since it signed Durant, won’t have a relevant 7-footer on the roster. (Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones was the team’s first-round pick, but, seriously, how much time is he going to see with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston? The answer is “Enjoy the bench, kid.”)
Traditional post play is out and speed and the 3-pointer are in with the NBA.
Star power rules the league
All sports are star-powered — Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin — but none more so than the NBA.
Only in basketball can the landscape shift as it did with the Durant signing. And it’s not just this instance. Shaq left the Magic to join up with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and a dynasty was born. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all came together in Miami back in 2010. James went back to Cleveland and pretty much became star, coach and general manager in leading the Cavs to a title recently. (And Wade might be going to rejoin LeBron in Cleveland, if rumors are to be believed.)
But is it good for the sport?
The Oklahoma City Thunder just went from being a game away from the NBA Finals to the outhouse with this signing. Does basketball survive in OKC after the Thunder likely trade Russell Westbrook? Remember that OKC had two bad seasons when the team relocated from Seattle and then took off. Will the fans stay?
Is the making of so-called “super teams” good for the sport? Aren’t we just looking down the barrel of another Warriors-Cavaliers Finals next summer? The all-powerful television ratings will be sensational for the matchup. What about the other 28 teams in the league and the rest of the season?
OK, we just declared that it will be the Warriors and the Cavaliers next June, and espn.com is running articles about the inevitability of Golden State winning the whole thing.
This doesn’t always work. Can Curry, Thompson and Durant all get enough touches to make everyone happy? Do people stay healthy? This is always a variable. I don’t think Curry was healthy in the Finals last month. (It’s just a pet theory.)
Will teams remember how to play defense in the NBA. (It could happen.)
Opening Night is Oct. 25. It should be interesting.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.