Often NBA players changing teams takes on false importance on a slow news day in July.
This was not. Kevin Durant announcing he’s leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors felt seismic.
If you are a fan of a small-market NBA team, you can’t see this as a positive development. NBA rules – particularly the Larry Bird exception – are intended to give a free agent’s previous team advantages in retaining that player. The Thunder was fortunate to draft Durant in 2007 when they were the Seattle SuperSonics. They nurtured his development into a superstar and paired him with a spectacular point guard in Russell Westbrook.
That Thunder team built a 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the playoffs but failed to close the deal, losing in seven games. A weekend sales pitch by the Warriors reportedly included executive board member Jerry West, the model for the NBA’s silhouette logo, closing the meeting with a personal appeal to Durant.
So now Durant says he’s going to form a superteam in northern California that will involve four maximum-salary players. The Warriors will likely have to gut their depth to make this happen and that could create opportunities for other teams. Reportedly, Durant agreed to a two-year, $54 million contract.
But before delving into that, an aside to Charlotte Hornets fans: If there was even a sliver of hope that two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry could be coaxed to come play for his hometown team in his prime, that’s over. The Warriors successfully recruiting Durant (Curry was part of that presentation) makes a great situation even better. Curry is the most popular athlete in the Bay Area, and with the Warriors planning to move into a new arena in San Francisco, it’s essential they retain him.
The NBA is a superstar-driven league, so doing what they must to sign Durant is a no-brainer for the Warriors. But they will take a hit to their depth, which was another of Golden State’s great strengths.
It looks like they’ll need to renounce the rights to free agents Harrison Barnes (reportedly getting a maximum contract with the Dallas Mavericks) and Festus Ezeli. The Warriors are also expected to trade center Andrew Bogut to dump his $11 million salary for next season.
The Warriors need to ration their resources now and a year from now. They have to sign Durant with cap room now and since he’ll likely opt out after next season, the Warriors will likely need flexibility for Durant and Curry on maximum deals in the summer of 2017 (assuming there is no lockout).