On paper, Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors would create an unstoppable team, destined for several championships. There's only one problem: Basketball games aren't played on paper. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

A Durant rant: Warriors should say no

If they weren’t 54-5 this season and 137-25 over the last 16 months, if they weren’t positioned to become the first team to go 41-0 at home and finish a regular season without two consecutive losses, if they weren’t declared “a moment” in time by Sports Illustrated and weren’t poised to let the NBA’s first unanimous Most Valuable Player stagger-shoot them to an encore championship, then, sure, yeah, absolutely, damn right, the Warriors should pursue Kevin Durant.

But when you’re already touching the velvet walls of near-perfection, tell me: Just what is the end game here? How much better can life be when it’s historically idyllic as it is? Why form a superteam — a concept that is wobbling in Cleveland after quickly crumbling in Miami — when you’ve assembled a super team very capable of owning three titles by June of next year?

Joe Lacob, the man who claims to have had a threesome with his fiancee and the Larry O’Brien Trophy, owns the Warriors. Bob Myers, who skillfully erected a roster oozing of cohesion and camaraderie when so many teams are crippled by internal loathing and tension, is the general manager. Ultimately, while listening to the coach (Steve Kerr) who turned loose this free-form ballet troupe and the legendary consultant (Jerry West) who threatened to quit if Klay Thompson was traded for Kevin Love, they’ll determine if a group that looks invincible and sustainable for the foreseeable future should be taken apart this summer to make room for Durant.

The answer should be no.

Hell, no.

Yet every time the Warriors play the Oklahoma City Thunder, such as tonight at Oracle Arena, the Durant discussion amplifies. It continues to be the biggest ongoing side topic in league circles, gaining more legs with every national story fueled by unnamed front-office sources. Until Lacob or Myers dismisses the possibility, we’ll keep hearing it, and all the while, you just hope the big bosses confer with the person whose opinion should matter most. That would be Stephen Curry, who has created a culture of love and selflessness and, unless I’m dead-wrong, has little interest in watching comrades leave when the Warriors are thriving like few outfits in American sporting annals.

“I know what we have is pretty special and precious,” said Curry, who hasn’t addressed the Durant rumors specifically but does realize the gift in his midst. “When you have what we have, you have to enjoy and appreciate it.”

In the SI piece, written by Rick Reilly, Curry expounded. “It took me until my fourth year to be on a winning team in this league. So I know how great it is to win,” he said. “I know the league is so fluid. One trade, one bad free-agent signing, and it’s over.”

One trade, one free-agent signing …

Last I looked, there is one basketball. On this team, Curry has that ball. And because he’s generous and team-minded, because Thompson is the willingly deferential sidekick, because Draymond Green usually accepts his all-encompassing purpose and because the others not only have bought into roles but own mortgages, the chemistry is exquisite. The Warriors play with a joy that should not be disrupted or messed with by any temptation, even the prospect of pairing the most lethal shooter ever with one of the most unstoppable scorers ever.

The pro-Durant fraternity states the obvious: With the league’s TV-bolstered salary cap increasing to at least $90 million this summer and $110-million-plus the following summer, the Warriors could pull this off on the spreadsheet. Thompson ($70 million) and Green ($82.5 million) are locked into deals that already look obsolete, meaning Curry and Durant could be paid super-max contracts. I understand why people salivate at the thought of those four interworking parts creating even more offensive havoc.

I’m also not sure who else would be on the team. Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, maybe Festus Ezeli — so long, replaced by a revolving door of hopefuls who may or may not fit a system that suits everyone currently in uniform, all the way to Mo Speights and Brandon Rush. Barnes is becoming expendable, with recent erratic performances making it hard to justify a likely $90 million payday this summer as a restrictive free agent. Ideally, they’d ship him to OKC for Durant in a dual sign-and-trade deal, whereupon Thunder GM Sam Presti would be tossed into a rodeo ring with four killer bulls. If the Warriors let Barnes walk, logic has it that they’d give his annual $22 million — and then some — to Durant. Yo, this is an elite player. He’s going to need $35 million a year, so enough with that pipedream.

The need to get younger makes sense, with Iguodala, Bogut and Shaun Livingston considerably older than Curry, Thompson and Green. But not yet. Having conquered the competition to the point where even LeBron James and Damian Lillard are fawning over Curry on Twitter, the Warriors would be insane to tinker with a indestructable machine. Ride it out. Win three straight titles. Then survey the free-agency landscape.

Maybe Durant still would be there in 16 months, agreeing to play one last season in Oklahoma City. Even so, it’s paramount for Lacob and co-owner Peter Guber to prioritize the contract extension of Curry, whose current lowball of $44 million deserves an added zero in free agency, though it likely will be around $200 million. Not until Curry is happy should ownership begin to ponder Durant, as he is going to want what Curry gets. Now do you see where a nice fantasy turns complicated?

Maybe it was me, or maybe Durant really was looking longingly at Curry during his unforgettable shooting barrage last Saturday. And why wouldn’t Durant want to, um, curry his favor? Steph has what he wants, a ring. Steph has what he doesn’t have, a wide-open window to win more titles. Steph has what Durant can’t figure out in Oklahoma with Russell Westbrook, how to push a talented bunch to a championship level. Anyone notice when the Thunder, Durant included, suffer too many defensive lapses on the perimeter? And how he’s allowed to hold the ball for what seems an eternity, a luxury not permitted by Kerr unless the ballhandler’s name is Curry. No player, not even Kevin Durant, can come to the Warriors and go lax on defense and into an isolation mode on offense. This is Curry’s team, and I’m figuring Durant wouldn’t be a receptive No. 2 when his relationship with Westbrook never has seemed like lollipops and kisses.

“They did whatever they wanted and we didn’t show any resistance,” Durant moaned last week after a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, who made 12 three-pointers. “We didn’t help [defensively].”

Also at play would be the issue of shot distribition. If Durant needs the ball from Curry, when would Thompson get the ball? And Green, who threw a fit last weekend about feeling like a robot in the offense?

“We have the players that we need, everybody fits their role, we have a great coaching staff and a great organization,” Green said recently. “All the pieces are in place for us to do something great. That’s our focus more than anything.”

Despite ankle concerns that sidelined him Tuesday night in the win over Atlanta, Curry likely will play tonight. The same can’t be said for Iguodala, whose hamstring is a nagging problem. That means Durant, who usually has to deal with Iguodala in his grill, may go off for 40 points, which would prompt a new round of speculation.

Ignore it.


Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

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