Why Durant Signed With the Warriors

Kevin Durant shocked the NBA about a week ago by announcing that he would sign a contract with the Golden State Warriors. With this addition, Golden State's Vegas odds to take back the title went from 2-to-1 to 2-to-3. That's right. If you put two dollars down on the Warriors to win next season — and they do — you'll get a crisp one-dollar bill.

This is absurd, and this is the flaw with basketball as a sport. In no other sport can the addition of one player make a team a near-certainty to win a title. But here's the caveat: only if it is the best player do you truly hold your own destiny in your hands. This is something the 2015-16 Warriors forgot. And this is why they lost in the NBA Finals.

Before we look at the implications of Durant on the Warriors, let's go back to Game 4 of the NBA Finals and examine why the Warriors felt they needed a player like him. In fact, let's take it back a bit farther, to Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

In this famous text, the Chinese strategist wrote, "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Essentially, as long as you understand what makes your opponent "tick" — and where your strengths lie — you should be able to win a battle.

The Warriors strengths were evident. They had the better passing team. They had Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining threes from Shaker Heights, Ohio. They had Draymond Green getting under everyone's skin. And they had a 3-1 series lead. All they had to do was to continue to "know" themselves, correct?

But something was missing. They didn't truly know their enemy.

It started with the Green incident. Forget the suspension risk that came with swinging at LeBron James' nether region — that's been talked about enough. Green had to know that the only way his team could lose these NBA Finals is if LeBron shifted into some sort of transcendental gear.

The great players — Kareem, Larry, Magic, MJ, even Kobe — do this at times in their careers, but LeBron never had. All Green and Co. had to do was make sure they didn't give him the impetus to turn that corner.

Then Green allegedly called LeBron a particular word that questioned his manhood. Five disrespectful letters, standing face-to-face with the best player on the planet, and giving him a choice: stand up or back down. Up 3-1 in the series, proverbial foot already on the throat of the Cavs, LeBron about to tie his own noose once more — was this really the right time to prod their best player into greatness?

But it didn't stop there.

Minutes later, the Warriors had a chance at redemption when, during an attempted inbound pass, LeBron immaturely fouled Curry. Curry could have laughed and walked away, realizing LeBron's mind was in chaos-mode. Instead, he got into a jawing match, flashing an expression I can only describe as "condescending." After winning a unanimous MVP (which he deserved, but still angered LeBron) and putting his opponent on the ropes, Curry decided he still needed to glare at his enemy with disdain.

I was in the Bay Area at this time. Fans verbalized what Curry's glare seemed to be saying. "You can't stand that I'm better than you." "Go home, crybaby." These types of insults echoed in James's ears. Strike two.

But it didn't stop there, either.

After the game, when discussing the now-infamous James-Green altercation, Klay Thompson chimed in with yet another mockery of the league's best. When asked why LeBron reacted as he did, Thompson replied, "I guess his feelings just got hurt."

It's not what Thompson said, but how he said it. Quite literally, he may have been correct. But the implication is that LeBron was a "soft" competitor. Upon being told about Thompson's remarks, James could only laugh.

At that exact moment, I texted my best friend, a die-hard Cleveland native who was all but certain this was "just another year," and I told him, "I think they may have just awakened a sleeping giant."

Three games later, and I was right.

Championship teams usually have the best talent, to be sure. But they also need to employ their skills strategically, in a measured manner. This is what makes Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich such excellent leaders. Steve Kerr might one day join those ranks, but during and after Game 4, he let the inmates run the asylum. The arrogance and lack of discipline took over, and LeBron James was forced into the excellence so many have demanded since he came into the league.

This is why the Warriors lost — their disrespect of a great opponent. Which brings us back to the Durant move. K.D. gives the Warriors a leader who will not disregard and anger his opposition. He gives an adult presence to a team of fun-loving, young stars. Perhaps in a moment such as Game 4, he can defuse the energies of a Green (probably not) or a Curry (more likely). He can set a tone in press conferences, so players like Thompson can follow.

LeBron may well have sabotaged himself if the Warriors left well enough alone, and Durant is the type of player that may be able to convince them to do so next time.

So, good signing ... end of story, right?

Here's where things could go wrong. I fear his addition may not actually improve the Warriors. I can already hear the critics: "How can adding arguably the best scorer in the NBA to a team that was already the best make them worse?"

One word: efficiency.

The Warriors were already the most efficient team in the league last year. Averaging 114.9 points per game on 103 possessions per game, they score 1.115 points per possession. While the second place team is only .2 behind the mark, extrapolate this out over 100 possessions and you have a 2-3 point victory every game (on average - against the second-best team).

This, of course, is largely due to their three-point prowess. Here's where their stats get interesting: not only do they have the highest percentage from downtown (an unreal 41.6%), but they also attempt the most of these shots per game (32). That means, on average, they score 40 points per game from beyond the arc.

By adding Durant, they are giving — let's say — 16 shots per game to a man who shoots under 30% from beyond the arc. He will attempt significantly more twos than threes. Assuming some of those twos get taken away from Curry and Thompson's three-point attempts (and knowing they're taken away from Barnes, who is gone), Durant will have to shoot somewhere between 60-75% on the floor to make up for the three-pointers he's taking away. This will not happen.

Every 15-footer Durant shoots (whether it goes in or not) is one fewer bomb the Splash Brothers can fire up. This not only lessens their efficiency (unless his percentage skyrockets), but it takes away some of their momentum, their mystique. How many times this year did a long three seem to energize the Oracle Arena? Durant's presence removes anywhere from 5-8 of those opportunities per game.

Now, I might be wrong. Durant may provide the perfect complement to his co-stars, each one allowed to take games over when feeling hot. They may, indeed, be the greatest team to ever grace the NBA with their presence.

But superteams, historically, underperform more often than not. And when your team already had such a unique mixture of jump shooting prowess, speed, flow, passing, momentum, and you decide to incorporate a traditional scorer ... nobody can be sure about what the effect will be.

Starting with old-fashioned respect, however, is the right move. Durant brings that to Golden State.

Leave a Comment

Marketplace

Partners