Balls remembers the debate well. It took place around the All-Star break, when all was perfect in the Warriors’ world.
Who needs Kevin Durant? If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Another big scorer could destroy team chemistry. Sign him for what?
Because you always consider a rare opportunity to acquire an off-the-charts talent, Balls said, especially if he’s an elite shot-maker in a game that has so few of them.
Months later, can it be any more obvious that the Warriors need Durant as much as he needs them?
If the recent playoffs told us anything, it’s that the Warriors are built more for the regular season than the playoffs, a finesse team that’s very good but not quite good enough. Balls won’t go all Chuckles Barkley and say they were lucky to win even one league championship. Yet it’s fair enough to admit that, if Kevin Love and especially Kyrie Irving had been available for the entire NBA Finals last year, LeBron James and the Cavaliers quite possibly would be repeat champions today.
So let’s be honest here. As otherworldly as he may be in the regular season, Stephen Curry is too small, too fragile to handle the 100-plus-games grind. He has a history of ankle problems, which showed up at the worst possible time in the playoffs. As long as the Warriors hang their hat on him, they’re one false step from mediocrity. Take him out of the lineup for an extended period, and they’re a borderline playoff team at best.
Moreover, there are nagging doubts about Curry’s mental toughness and ability to cope with postseason stress. A poised leader doesn’t swear at a referee, throw his mouthpiece into the crowd and risk a suspension while he does it. He also doesn’t take crazy, off-balance shots and attempt a silly, behind-the-back pass late in a close Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Enter Durant, whose all-around talent and fierce competitive spirit would make the ex-Champs all but bulletproof in the years to come.
Of course, Oklahoma City won’t lose Durant without a kiss on the fanny. On Thursday, the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic in return for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and project Domantas Sabonis, a blockbuster deal that reeked of desperation. It seemed that Durant wasn’t a fan of Ibaka, who grumbled about his lesser role last season. The versatile Oladipo represents an upgrade over Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters, another guy who K.D. can live without.
But if his is a “basketball decision,” as Durant claims, then he’ll hitch his future to the Warriors in a soon-to-be-built arena in a bigger market for one simple reason: They give him the best chance to win his first-ever NBA title.
The Thunder appear to have closed the gap a bit, but all things considered, the Warriors remain the better option. A first unit of Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut (or someone comparable in the middle) trumps that of Durant, Oladipo, Ilyasova, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams. The Warriors still have more depth. And in Steve Kerr, they have a coach who has been there, done that.
As one Warriors insider told Balls, “Sure, Durant would fit here. Steve Kerr would make it work.”
Along with Curry and Thompson, Durant would be part of a Murderer’s Row of 3-point shooters, the greatest one-two-three combination in NBA history. How could defenses possibly contain so many lethal options? In OKC, Durant wouldn’t get nearly as many open looks alongside Oladipo and Westbrook, average shooters at best.
Many predict that Durant will sign a one-year deal with the Thunder, but that might only take a year off his career shot clock. That leaves the San Antonio Spurs as the other option, and why would Durant want to join a bunch of old fogies whom the Thunder just beat in the playoffs?
REALLY BIG SHOES: There’s talk that Nike would never allow Durant to play second fiddle to Curry, who’s an Under Armour guy. But who’s to say that the Warriors wouldn’t become Durant’s team eventually?
Curry has been otherworldly the last two regular seasons, when he averaged 26.9 and 7.2 assists per game and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent in the field overall. But that’s not the same guy we’ve seen when the stakes are highest. In the last two NBA Finals, his numbers shrunk to 24.2, 4.9, 39 and 42, respectively.
Before we forget, this isn’t even Curry’s team now. It’s Joe Lacob’s and Peter Guber’s team.
As for the too-many-stars-on-one-team argument, James disproved it in Miami, where he, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade did just fine en route to back-to-back league championships. Ditto Gail Goodrich, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and the 1971-72 Lakers, who forever will be on the short list of greatest teams ever.
GIANT QUESTION MARK: Stud starters Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are enough to get the Giants deep into the postseason whether Jeff Samardzija comes along for the ride or not.
The bigger question lies in the bullpen even if it has been lights out lately.
Overall, the Giants’ relief corps is a respectable second in wins, fifth in earned run average and seventh in opponents batting average in the National League. That’s pretty good until you consider this: Potential playoff opponents Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals rank better across the board.
General manager Bobby Evans might be wise to call the New York Yankees before the trade deadline. Because if they don’t inquire about Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman, chances are another contender will before long.
JUST SAYIN’: James is the best forward in hoops history. Period. End of discussion.
If there’s any good to come out of the NBA Finals, it’s that we won’t have to hear about long-suffering Cleveland fans for a few dozen years.
Scouts say Warriors first-rounder Damian Jones is athletically gifted but fundamentally deficient, so, yeah, he’s in the right place, all right.
The Team Formerly Known as the Sacramento Kings traded Marco Belinelli for the No. 22 pick, dealt No. 8 for No. 18 and 28 and a future second-rounder and wound up with somebody named Georgios Papagiannis. Here’s what Balls thinks: Mamagiannis is a very happy woman today.
The Athletics smoked Tim Lincecum in his Anaheim Angels home debut. He doesn’t pitch nearly as well on grass.
YOUR TURN: “That does it, Balls. First, you picked the Warriors over the Thunder in seven. Then the Penguins over the Sharks in six. Then the Cavaliers over the Warriors in seven. . . . Please let me know if the end of the world is near so I can plan accordingly. Thanks.” — Gary Anderson, Columbus, Ohio.
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