Stempak: Durant changes the playing field
R.J. Stempak | Tuesday, August 30, 2016
One of the biggest free agency losses in NBA history happened this summer. The only instance that was even close to the Oklahoma City Thunder losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors was Shaquille O’Neal leaving the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers all the way back in 1996. And while the repercussions of the move are clear for the Thunder and Warriors, the ripples that will echo through the rest of the league are still up for debate.
The immediate response to the move from players and ex-players was widely negative. Charles Barkley called Durant out on, “trying to cheat his way to a championship.” Larry Bird compared the move to him joining Magic Johnson. Nobody was happy, except for Warriors fans.
The critics have a good point, and as tempers cooled in the heat of summer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver weighed in on the move that was turning his league on its head.
“Just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that’s ideal from a league standpoint,” Silver said. What he’s talking about is parity. If making basketball the biggest sport in the world is the number one priority for Silver, balancing the league is number two.
The 2014 NBA MVP joining the winningest regular season team in history has not happened before and probably never will again, but in the short term it makes the league more unbalanced, both in talent and the distribution of money. The Thunder will lose viewers and fans who will follow Durant to the Warriors, an already popular team with a large TV market. The Western Conference, which was full of talented and competitive teams, lost its second-best team and vastly improved the best team in one stroke. The West is starting to look like the East, which has been dominated by LeBron James for a half decade, at least for the foreseeable future.
Even though all of this craziness sounds bad for competition in the league, it is not all that different than what has already been going on. The Lakers and Celtics both dominated the 80’s and the 2000’s. The Bulls dominated the 90’s and the Spurs have been great since they drafted Tim Duncan 19 years ago. Because there are only ten people on the court at a time and there is only one basketball to go around, the sport has been and always will be star-driven. There can never be parity to the extent that is found in other sports, simply because really good players are few and far between, and having a couple of those players makes a team really good.
But yes, this Warriors super team is one like we have not seen before. Sure they will win most of their games and will likely win a championship, but that should not be a bad thing for the rest of the league. Kobe put it best: “as a competitor you have to look at that and say ok, I have to figure out to take apart that team, and how can I take them down.” The bigger they are the harder they fall, as the saying goes.
Of course Kobe is retired and does not actually have to face this beast, but he has a point. Every team is one injury away from falling out of contention, and those teams in the second tier need to be ready to grab at any opportunity that comes their way. Who knows? Maybe Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant all go cold one series (Who am I kidding? They are unbeatable). Finally, despite the negatives, it will surely be a fun season to watch, as the evil Warriors take the league by a storm of threes.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.