Kevin Durant and the super-team dilemma
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. By acquiring Kevin Durant, this Golden State Warriors are again the heavy favorites to win the NBA Championship. There’s no point in debating how easy it would be for them to bulldoze their way into the Finals.
There is, however, a league-wide problem that is starting to brew and that needs to be discussed. The Kevin Durant move has become a cancer, and the league is now in chemotherapy. Some teams are desperately trying to cure the problem, but the same can’t be said for the rest.
Super-teams are nothing new in the NBA. Some of the biggest league franchises such as the Lakers, Celtics and Heat have orchestrated moves such as this. While it is easy to point out that not all of these teams found immediate success, this new Warriors team is different by a long shot, and other teams have recognized that.
This is a 73-win team now housing the last 3 league MVPs in Durant (’14) and Stephen Curry (’15 and ’16). Along with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, 4 out of 5 starters are now All-Stars well within their prime. Even their sixth man, Andre Iguodala, is a former All-Star and the 2015 Finals MVP.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith has since called the signing “the weakest move ever seen from a superstar, plain and simple.” However, the real problem doesn’t lie with Kevin Durant or the Golden State Warriors per se, but rather with the message that they are sending to the rest of the league: Enhance your team, or else you’ll have no chance.
A few hours after the move, big market teams have frantically worked the phones for short-term solutions. The Dallas Mavericks claimed former Warriors Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes and even Seth Curry, Steph’s biological Splash Brother. The San Antonio Spurs have signed Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol on the heels of Tim Duncan’s rumored retirement. The New York Knicks have signed Orlando Magic starting guard Brandon Jennings even though they already have Derrick Rose. Basically, the teams which have the means are desperately stacking up to match the ungodly power the Warriors suddenly have.
On the other hand, the remaining free agents are now willing to take huge pay cuts just to have a taste of the Golden (State) opportunity. Former Dallas center and double-double machine Zaza Pachulia recently accepted a one-year, $3 million contract to be the Warriors big man in a time where no-name bigs like Jon Leuer are getting $10 million a year. It’s a sad irony that the smallest markets have to shell out the biggest money just to get a player that fits their system.
This is disastrous for the league long-term. With the league already suffering from a prevalent power imbalance, the inequality this move brings will be more profound and persistent. Since the Warriors have succeeded, there’s no stopping other markets and players from doing the same in the near future. Relevance will be a rarer commodity as smaller-market teams lose any hope of standing a chance against the brighter lights of big cities.
Like a struggling economy, the elite 1% will bask in luxury and excess while the poor will fight for scraps to survive.
The NBA Draft will also further lose its essence, since a rebuilding plan will be fruitless if a team cannot lure a superstar-caliber player to lure other stars. Drafting a touted prospect seems less appealing to the thought of creating a “Warriosr-like” super-team with established names tested by professional competition.
Much like a dead-end job, players won’t be too enthusiastic to keep playing for a dead-end team. Barring a league-wide mutiny and outright refusal of deals from big markets, rebuilding teams are nothing but trade fodder and salary sponges for players who don’t live up to expectations.
This single move is the death of healthy and fair competition. Sure, this argument has been previously echoed at the formation of the James-Wade-Bosh super-team in Miami and was by no means invalid back then, but the Durant move is a different situation. Those 3 did not join a team which broke the record for regular season wins but rather a middle-of-the-pack, 48-win playoff team with one superstar tired of carrying all the load.
With the Warriors’ case, the system is there and it is solidly built from the draft. They can afford multiple injuries and still be in the hunt for the title. The pieces are already there. On 3 separate occasions, they were 48 minutes away from the title. They don’t even need Durant. They don’t even need to dismantle the team by dropping Bogut and Barnes to make way for him. Along with their dignity, the Warriors are throwing away the thing that brought them the title in the first place: chemistry.
Les Carpenter of The Guardian dubbed the Warriors as “the happiest team in sports.” To quote the article, “Suddenly everything made sense to the team’s general manager Bob Myers (after seeing that the team was clowning around after being down 2-1 in the 2015 Finals). “Sitting in the stands I had this epiphany,” Myers says. “I said: ‘I get it! Basketball was supposed to be fun.’”
Last season, the most dominating force in basketball were just having fun en route to a 73-9 record. Everyone was relaxed because they trusted one another on a level that transcends advanced statistics. That chemistry didn’t blossom overnight. It took years of development and failures to make the team have perfect synergy with one another. Dismantling that just to attract another great player is asking for trouble.
Yes, the Warriors choked a 3-1 Finals lead with that team, but that’s the point the Warriors are seemingly missing: they were that close to a second title. They already won a championship with that lineup. It’s like tearing down a house just because it got cracks after an earthquake. If that years-long chemistry was tested and defeated one game at a time last finals, who’s to say that the same won’t happen to a team built overnight? Who’s to say that the ’16-’17 Warriors won’t suffer the same fate as the ’03-’04 Hall of Famer Lakers squad?
Recent league history has shown that underdogs can and do prevail against all odds. However, unlike stereotypical underdog feel-good stories, the NBA’s version seems a lot hollower, seeing that the championship-snatching Cleveland Cavaliers are already a super-team.The NBA has reached a point where even a “normal” super-team of 3 All-Stars is merely the status quo.
Right now, we are witnessing the birth of a “super” super-team – a ridiculous name and a ridiculous reality we face moving forward. The phenomenon has started and it’s here to stay.
The NBA has and always been a cutthroat business. Golden State is just getting ahead of the curve, or at least they think they are. – Rappler.com