This is not the story I wanted to write. I wanted to write about the leap Kyrie Irving made in Game 3 of the Finals, and how it made the series at least remotely competitive. But no. The Warriors have Kevin Durant. So I guess it doesn’t matter how well Irving or LeBron played. The Warriors broke the league and nothing else matters.
I don’t think I’m breaking new ground in saying how much this sucks. When the Warriors inevitably do win the series I have the most venomous piece of content I’ve ever devised waiting in the wings. To be clear, that venom will be directed at Kevin Durant. But so many things had to happen to get him to Golden State, and people need to be blamed for those things. It’s not productive, but watching these playoffs haven’t been either, so let’s vent together for 1,000 words or so.
James Naismith (5 percent): I could be watching hockey right now. I like catfish. Nashville seems like a cool city. But this dude had to create a game that would monopolize my time and ensnare my heart. He didn’t have to do that. He grew up in 1860s Canada. The world was his oyster. He could’ve been a blacksmith or a Mountie or a moose smeller or something. Then I could have a sensible career, perhaps as a moose smeller as well, and I wouldn’t have to think about this.
LeBron James, the Player (20 percent): The greatest player of his era creates two problems. The first is obvious. If LeBron James weren’t so good at basketball the Warriors would have won the championship last year. If that had happened, Kevin Durant would not be on their team. LeBron destroyed his greatest enemy only to create a greater one. It’s a wonder none of the stars Michael Jordan bullied in the 90s ever had this idea, but we’ll get to them a bit later. The point is that LeBron was so good at basketball that the Warriors felt the need to go get a second MVP just to combat him.
The second problem is harder to fully trace. The cap spiked because of a new TV deal in which the league generated significantly more revenue than it previously was. There are several reasons for that totally independent of the on-court product, but it’s worth noting that raw interest in the league is at an all-time high and LeBron was the league’s best player at the time the new deal was signed, and when the ratings that were used to generate that figure were determined. Take LeBron out of the league during the last TV deal and maybe the league isn’t as healthy. Maybe the cap doesn’t jump quite as high, and the Warriors can’t squeeze Durant in. We can’t create any serious estimate of how much LeBron was worth to the TV networks currently paying for the league’s media rights, but it has to be a significant amount.
Donatas MotiejA�nas (10 percent): You big lumbering yeti, you ruined everything. Stand upright on the basketball court. Don’t slip. Don’t let your sweat injure Stephen Curry. It might help you steal a game in a series you’re bound to lose anyway, but it’s going to ruin a league that no longer wants you. Wait a second. Why are we letting D-Mo slink out of this scot-free? He should be forcibly signed to the Clippers next year with a shock collar around his neck and an electric fence built around both three-point lines to force him to switch out onto every Golden State shooter as penance for this.
Kevin Garnett (5 percent): Max contracts only exist because owners were furious over how much Minnesota paid Kevin Garnett. If he’d been worse at basketball we might exist in a world where Kevin Durant could make the $50 million or so his market value dictates and the Warriors never would have had a chance at him.
Sam Presti (10 percent): Remember when James Harden was on the Thunder?
Russell Westbrook (5 percent): Russell Westbrook remembers. The Thunder were a fun team to play for back then.
LeBron James, the Union Executive (15 percent): The NBA wanted to institute cap smoothing to prevent the spike that made Kevin Durant’s signing with the Warriors possible. The union said no. LeBron James is on the union’s Executive Committee. Michele Roberts serves at the Executive Committee’s pleasure. LeBron should have seen this coming and he didn’t. Chris Paul should have seen this coming and they didn’t. They wanted to maximize their own contracts. I hope that money keeps them warm on those cold mid-June nights in which they’ll no longer be playing basketball.
Jeff Austin (5 percent): On October 31st, 2012, DeMar DeRozan signed a four-year, $40 million contract to stay with the Toronto Raptors. On November 1st, 2012, Stephen Curry signed a four-year, $44 million contract to stay with the Golden State Warriors. Given the context we can’t ignore the influence DeRozan’s contract probably had on Curry’s. It is highly likely that Curry’s agent Jeff Austin used it as a baseline for Steph.
Here’s the problem: even at that point, Curry was far better than DeRozan. He averaged more points, rebounds, assists and steals on higher field goal, three-point and free throw percentages in his first three years. His effective field goal percentage was over eight points higher (54.7 percent to 46.4 percent). Yes, Curry’s ankle injuries were a concern at that point. But they’d only really affected him in the 2011-12 season. One year of injuries shouldn’t lower your salary that much. James Harden got the five-year max at $80 million and wasn’t exactly better than Curry at that point. This was bad work by an agent.
Harrison Barnes (5 percent): Some bad egg whispered some bad things into Harrison Barnes’ ear at some point. a�?You were the No. 1 recruit in your high school class,” a�?people used to compare you to Kobe Bryant,” a�?you should be a star, you shouldn’t waste away on the Warriors.” He summarily declined a very reasonable extension offer prior to the 2015-16 season that would have robbed Golden State of their cap space for 2016. Now he gets to isolate all he wants on a Dallas team nobody watches.
Draymond Green (5 percent): Do you know how easy it is to not kick someone in the nuts? I’m not doing it right now. I would wager that nobody reading this right now has kicked anyone below the belt today. Nobody does this accidentally. You have to choose to kick someone down there. Draymond Green did it. He was suspended for Game 5 of last year’s Finals. The rest is history.
LeBron James, the Human (15 percent): Kevin Durant isn’t the first major free agent to leave his original team for a better one. LeBron wasn’t either, but he’s the benchmark. He established this era of player movement and super teams.
And to be clear, that’s not inherently a bad thing. It’s good that teams are held accountable to their stars. It’s better for us as fans if superstars are on good teams. And, if their original teams can’t provide that then there are usually going to be plenty of others who can. LeBron opened that door.
Kevin Durant took a drill and removed the hinges. Then he grabbed a sledgehammer and knocked the adjoining wall down for good measure. LeBron left a legitimately bad team to create a new one of his own. I seriously doubt Kevin Durant would have had the courage to leave a legitimately good team to latch onto a better one if he hadn’t. Once again, LeBron has created his own enemy. And if these Finals are any indication, this one is too big to overcome.