Kevin Durant and the Sinking Feeling of Inevitability

Durant Golden State

Well, it happened. Oh, man, did it actually happen.

Kevin Durant agreed to sign with the Golden State Warriors Monday, ruining Fourth of July cookouts for NBA executives and sportswriters everywhere. This is of course all very well and good if you’re one of a) the Golden State Warriors, b) Kevin Durant, or c) a Warriors fan—all of whom rightfully basked in their glory on Independence Day. But for the rest of the NBA—teams and fans included—the signing likely put a damper on the foreseeable future.

Let’s be clear: the Warriors will be one hell of a watch next season. Golden State isn’t going to stumble out of the gates as did the Heatles or whatever bad nickname we probably came up with for the 2012 Lakers. Durant is joining a group that is very much familiar with each other and employs the epitome of high-chemistry hoops. He’s proven that he has no problem deferring offensively while playing alongside Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Sure, the Warriors have to renounce some key role players and might certainly feel empty in the middle without Andrew Bogut and (very likely) Festus Ezeli, but this ultimately shouldn’t matter. Kevin Durant running the pick-and-roll with Draymond Green should be basketball euphoria. Replacing Harrison Barnes, easily the Death Lineup’s weakest link, with a 7-footer in Kevin Durant may almost literally suffocate another team on the defensive end. Having the 2014 MVP setting screens for the 2015 & 2016 MVP is something we used to only have the pleasure of experiencing for one night every February. Can you imagine 82 games of it?

But in there also lies the problem.

Dynasties look nice in the history books and sound great in theory. Yet, they don’t withhold the same thrill in the frame of an 82-game season. Consider this: on July 3rd the Celtics added Al Horford and instantly became a feasible title contender. The following day, they were reduced to just another puny village expecting to be crushed by the giant. Cleveland, which had everything break right to win the Finals—from LeBron transmogrifying back into the world’s best player to Kyrie Irving going supernova to Kevin Love mostly staying out of the way—are capped out. They have no immediate or apparent combative upgrade. We can take a good guess why news of Tim Duncan’s imminent retirement leaked just hours after Durant signed.

Further rooted in this apathy is what we’re giving up. Last season’s Western Conference Finals was possibly the greatest playoff series of our generation, but we have no Act II to anticipate this season. The Spurs—the clear “favorite” and likely the only semi-realistic option to topple the Warriors at this juncture—added Pau Gasol. But the slow-footed Spaniard is a shrug-worthy counter to a 73-win team adding Kevin Freaking Durant. The Warriors, without a legitimate opponent in the West, will likely face the single obstacle of stealing its title back from Cleveland. And Golden State’s Achilles heal in those Finals—that Steph Curry was for whatever reason no longer the Steph Curry—is now aptly insured by adding the league’s third-best player.

Most fans gave no non-Warriors team any chance until Oklahoma City’s heroic efforts, only to double down again in the Finals and write off the Cavaliers after two games. The result was a breathtaking culmination of defeating all odds and slaying the beast, but it should also be viewed as an aberration. It’s possible to take joy in and respect Cleveland’s feat while also acknowledging that perhaps the best team didn’t win. Barring injury (not exactly a favorable alternative), Golden State should be outright favorites in every game it plays this season.

What we’re confronted with is effectively the “spoiler” argument: Is reaching the finish line any less enjoyable if we already know how the movie ends? Much of America gathers around its TV on Sunday nights for Game of Thrones, but would the show draw its record-breaking numbers if George RR Martin went ahead and told us where and how the story ends? Many fans will not be bothered by this, as is their prerogative, but a certain sense of mystique will be undeniably lacking this season. Why should any team be excited about advancing to the playoffs (with the obvious exception of those post-season checks) if the players know they’re ultimately just prolonging the walk to the chopping block?

The Golden State Warriors greatest opponent this season will be the Golden State Warriors. Can the team finish what it started last season, topping once again the wins record and adding the championship cherry to the perfect season? Every Dubs game will surely be appointment viewing, but what about those other 29 franchises? Does anybody care that a team like the Celtics may have added ten wins this summer? What the Warriors did in adding Durant was kick everybody else out of the vaunted “realistic contenders” club, only further emphasizing whatever hopelessness teams like the Cavaliers or Spurs may have faced last season.

The playoffs are typically the carrot at the end of the stick for an NBA season that always feels a month or two too long. Will it be met with the same enthusiasm if so many games occur without much consequence? Should anybody actually care about mid-to-late-season Western Conference seeding battles, considering spots two through eight will surely serve as measly sacrificial lambs to a Warriors’ Finals appearance? The most interesting of watches may be shifted towards the NBA’s bottom tier for once. A Timberwolves, Lakers, or 76ers similarly have no shot at a title this season, but make for an interesting investment as these teams are gearing up for the Warriors’ expected downfall a half-decade from now.

The blind spot of the NBA’s super-team era is that seeing the sausage get made never quite lives up to how we glorify it years later. We’ll all certainly enjoy retelling the story of witnessing the greatest NBA team ever to our grandchildren, but it may feel a bit empty knowing that the stories are rooted in decidedly less competitiveness.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. I’ll still enjoy the NBA next season, and I’ll sure as hell love tuning in to Warriors games. But let’s be honest with ourselves: we already know how this book ends. The only question that remains is if we’ll still feel as enticed to finish it.

  • Darrell Horwitz

    Nice article, but I wonder why you will be interested in watching the Warriors games. If the outcome is already decided before the game starts, is it going to hold your interest? You can watch the Globetrotters play the Washington Generals only so much before it becomes a bore, and that’s what the NBA has become. I don’t think it will continue to be appointment viewing. Blowouts aren’t fun to watch unless it’s your team doing the blowing out. Basketball fans want a competitive game.

    You mentioned injuries in the article, and while I don’t wish injuries on anybody, I might not mind a couple of key injuries to Warriors players and Cavs stars come the playoffs. I would love the two teams everyone thinks will be in the Finals not making it there, and injuries are probably the only way that happens.

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