Important subtitle: “Even Though I’m a Warriors Fan.”
You can blame it on Walt Disney.
A new regular season of NBA action begins next week. Though the Warriors failed to repeat as champions last June, they arguably won the free-agent sweepstakes over the summer by landing Kevin Durant. Was this the right move?
Let me be clear up front. I don’t think there are any bad guys or villains here. Kevin Durant is not a bad person for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign with the Warriors. He can play wherever he wants (and who wouldn’t want a player of his caliber?). In making that decision, of course, he had to know that the OKC faithful wouldn’t take it well. All the kids wearing #35 jerseys, all the fans who could feel the championship just inches from their grasp…I don’t blame them for being upset. Their love must all go to Russell Westbrook now. (And it’s a costly love: Westbrook, apparently, will be making more per year to stay in OKC than Durant is making by leaving.)
And do I think the Warriors can win with KD on their team? The guy who put on a show in the gold medal game in Rio? You bet.
It will take some time, of course, for everyone to make the necessary adjustments, and I don’t expect the Warriors to rattle off another record-breaking win streak at the start of the season. During the off-season, the Dubs lost a lot of key pieces from both their starting lineup and their bench. But overall, I think, they gained more than they lost.
Will they regain top seed in the West? Let’s see. Last year’s third-seeded Thunder, of course, lost Durant, but also Serge Ibaka. They won’t be contenders for the top spot this year. The second-seeded Spurs lost Tim Duncan, the emotional anchor of their franchise. But they’ve kept the rest of the roster mostly intact, and added veteran Pau Gasol. We’ll see how much the 36-year-old Gasol still has left in the tank, but his performance in the Rio Olympics says he’s still got game. Kawhi Leonard can only get better, and LeMarcus Aldridge more comfortable. If the Spurs have the kind of season they did last year, while the Warriors take some time to click, then San Antonio may end up with the top seed come next spring. The Warriors will need Durant if they want a third trip to the Finals and a possible second championship.
So why, as a Warriors fan, would I not want KD on the team?
Because to me, it’s not just about winning the championship — it’s about the story you tell of how you got there.
Golden State’s detractors had their own story about the 2015 championship: the Warriors won, not because they were the best team, but because they were the healthiest team, the team with the fewest holes in its roster. And the Dubs seemed to use that perception as motivation for their next campaign, racking up statistical records by the fistful during the regular season. By the time they were up 3-1 against LeBron and Company in the 2016 Finals, it looked like they were ready to silence the “Got Lucky” storyline for good.
Then the unthinkable happened. They started looking tentative, out of sync. The Cavaliers outplayed them wire to wire. In the end, the Warriors added one more record-breaking accomplishment to the list: they became the first team to be up 3-1 in the Finals and lose. That gave new life to the idea that the Cavs would have won in 2015 too, if only they had been healthy.
When the Thunder and Warriors met in the Western Conference Finals this year, it was the Warriors who had to dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole. They did, with some help from end-of-game meltdowns by the Thunder. But imagine this scenario. Durant realizes that the championship could have been theirs. He renews his contract with OKC, and the team works diligently to fix the glitches that cost them a trip to the Finals. And the following June, or perhaps the one after that, the Larry O’Brien trophy is finally theirs.
Twenty years later, you could make a Disney movie out of that story.
Or this one: the Warriors, stung by their defeat, go back to watch tape and do some soul-searching. Draymond Green finds a way to play with his emotions under control; Harrison Barnes finds his consistency; Steph Curry makes adjustments to his leadership and shot selection. And so on. They learn from their mistakes, keep their core together, play another stellar season — and this time, they close the deal.
That might make an even better movie. Better by far than the storyline that has one of the most dominant players in the league go to one of the most dominant teams and winning the championship that way.
Not to mention the stories that will be told if they don’t win.
I get it: in sports, winning is everything. Hoisting the trophy at the end of the season is the happy ending about which every player dreams. And if the Warriors win, I’ll be glad.
Yet to me, it matters how you get there. Maybe I’ve been influenced too much by how Disney tells stories, a reflection of the American penchant for narratives of redeeming your failure through dedication, hope, and sheer hard work.
But in this case, I still think that’s a better story to tell.