Geez, did you ever think renouncing the rights to Fetus Ezeli would cause so much commotion around the country?
No sooner did Kevin Durant light up the basketball world with his decision to join the Warriors — on the Fourth of July, no less — the jealous souls were quick to weigh in on the matter. Never mind them. As Durant said beforehand, his would be a “basketball decision,” and as usual, he couldn’t have been more on target.
The Warriors have it all over the Thunder. The Dubs have more and better talent to put around him on the court, not to mention more established coaches. They have more committed ownership with deeper pockets and greater visions. Their market is larger, the endorsement opportunities greater. They have a state-of-the-art arena on the way.
What the Thunder had in its favor was a mostly positive, eight-year relationship. Even that had its share of disappointment and frustration along the way. Durant is one of those generational talents who equates career success with championships won, and it concerned him to have reached the NBA Finals only once. At 27, it was time to head in a different direction not unlike LeBron James before him.
Oh, Durant will still feel the heat, all right, but it will be a different kind of pressure. He won’t have to play his A game for his team to be successful on most nights. On the rare occasion when he doesn’t have it, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston will make for a very large and secure safety net. That’s something he didn’t have in The Big Friendly.
We’re likely to see a more efficient Durant as a result. He’ll play fewer minutes but be fresher for it. He’ll handle the ball and turn it over less. If opponents were at a loss against the Splash Brothers, then how will they defend against one more in the fraternity? He’ll get more open looks, convert shots at a higher rate. And don’t forget the havoc that his 7-foot-4 3/4 wingspan will create at the other end.
While the Warriors are obvious favorites, a victory parade is no gimme at this time next year. Because of salary cap limitations, they figure to have less size without Ezeli and Andrew Bogut and depth minus them and Harrison Barnes.
If Curry encounters more health problems, all bets are off, too. Yet the ever-dependable Durant provides an insurance policy. His presence makes the Warriors bulletproof practically.
Now the Warriors have the look of a team for the ages. Curry and Durant are two of the greatest shot-makers of their time if not all time. Along with Green and Thompson, they give the team four All-Stars between 26 and 28 years of age.
Remember when James took his talents to Miami five years ago? When he brashly predicted, “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven [championships].”
Well, Durant isn’t the kind to go there, but Warriors fans can dream, can’t they?
IGGY TO THE RESCUE: Consultant Jerry West was in the ear of Durant last week, but according to a league source, Iguodala was the guy who should be credited with the assist here.
Iguodala was part of the group that made a pitch to Durant last Friday, but he was there for his financial expertise more than anything. Because California has the highest tax of any state in the league, Durant would have realized nearly $5 million more had he remained in Oklahoma City next season. But Iguodala has made no small fortune on investments in Silicon Valley in recent years, and the veteran apparently sold Durant on the idea that he could more than make up the difference elsewhere.
But none of this was about money, of course.
STAR SEARCH: Let’s not include the Warriors in the all-time greatest teams debate until they win at least one more league title. It takes more than one league title to be on the list, remember?
But with Curry and Durant as future Hall of Famers and Green and Thompson as possiblities, it’s not premature to rank the Warriors as the best since the 1985-86 Boston Celtics in terms of star power. That championship group started four future Hall of Famers in Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish and brought another in Bill Walton off the bench.
NATIONAL HOPELESS ASSOCIATION: The arrival of Durant is great news for the Bay Area, not so much for the other teams and product itself.
In a league that always has been more about entertainment than competition, next regular season will amount to the Bay Area Globetrotters versus the (insert city here) Generals. As it was, the Warriors were 3-2 favorites to win it all. They’re a 4-5 layup with Durant in their lineup.
Now there are even more teams without legitimate hope. That means more will tank games to improve their chances in the draft lottery. And that means more blowouts than last season, when it seemed every other outcome was decided at halftime.
As far as Balls can tell, there will be only two reasons to follow the regular season: 1) the Warriors’ pursuit of their own league record for victories; and 2) the police blotter.
The NFL and NHL also say thank you, Kevin Durant.
OKC YOU LATER: The biggest loser of all is Oklahoma City, which suddenly has all this salary cap money to burn but nobody to spend it on except Westbrook, who’s not long for the place.
The Thunder is in position to hand Westbrook the keys to the franchise, but the smart money says the UCLA product will return to Los Angeles next summer. Don’t be surprised if the Thunder tries to peddle the soon-to-be free agent to the Clippers in return for native son Blake Griffin, possibly the only person who can revive the franchise.
Otherwise, Oklahoma will join the long list of irrelevant mid-market teams that have no future, not that Balls would get choked up about it. Any town that steals a pro franchise as this one did from Seattle has to know the same can happen to it.
The Las Vegas Thunder kinda has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
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