It’s the biggest decision since LeBron’s “the decision.” The fanfare in Kevin Durant’s decision is definitely not the same, but the immediate impact and fallout is very, very similar to what we saw after LeBron announced he was takings his talents to South Beach. Thunder fans burned jerseys and shed tears, Warriors fans rejoiced and retook the spotlight from the Cavs, and the whole world speculated how effective the Warriors could really be. The predictions for the Heat big 3 were huge, and they did return on some of that hype. But how will the Warriors big 4 live up to the already ridiculous hype?
Durant’s Immediate Impact in Oakland
With the Warrior’s coming off a record-breaking season, a tremendous comeback on the Durant-Westbrook led Thunder, and coming just shy of back to back titles in Game 7 against Cleveland, Steve Kerr and company had huge expectations on their hands. Even before the Durant signing, the Warriors were the Vegas favorites to win the NBA Finals in 2016-17. And it’s very easy to believe that this only makes them even bigger favorites and even more dominant than they were in 2016. But this is not the same team as the one who beat out LeBron in Cleveland in 6 games. It’s not even the same team that fell short to LeBron just a few months back. .
To sign the Durantula, the Warriors had to get rid of many key players in their rotation. They could not afford to pay Harrison Barnes more money to play a less significant role, as Kevin Durant will eat up huge minutes at the 3. So they let him walk to Dallas. Dallas also acquired Andrew Bogut, the former #1 overall pick from Utah. Dallas got Bogut for next to nothing so the Warriors could get cap room, so Dallas did gain some good pieces. But what does all this player movement mean? It means the chemistry that once was the centerpiece of the 73-9 Warriors is gone. Yes, they still have the Splash Brothers and Draymond. But no one can deny the role that Harrison Barnes in both their championship season and this past season, even with his less than impressive shooting in the finals. And some people would have you believe Andrew Bogut being injured was the reason Cleveland was able to secure the title. While I believe the LeBron James/Kyrie Irving performance was a bigger factor, the role Andrew Bogut plays as a passer and screen setter in the GSW offense was a factor in his team’s success throughout the season. Both of those players had started at one point last year. The Warriors have done certain things to replace their talent, signing Dallas big man Zaza Pachulia and San Antonio stretch 4 David West, but they will be under tremendous pressure to replace the chemistry that those players brought to them. So how will the superstar that is KD be able to counteract the loss of what may have been the Warriors biggest asset, their team chemistry? Scoring. Shooting. And both in volume.
GSW now boasts last years leading scorer, Steph Curry, and the 3rd leading scorer in Kevin Durant. Also factor in Klay Thompson at 12 on that list to give the Warriors the first roster to have three of the top twelve scorers from the previous year. That’s scary, considering the Warriors already did damage to the league last year without KD. And we all remember Steph, Klay, and Draymond sitting down for many of their 4th quarters due to, well, domination. Offensively and defensively. And also don’t overlook the impact KD can bring to the defensive side of the ball. Many misjudge him because of his build, but remember the man is listed at 6’9″ (which may be on the shorter side) and has an incredible 7’5″ wingspan, making him tough to shoot over on the perimeter and tough to get around because of his length. Ask the Warriors. His ability to guard not only Harrison Barnes but also Draymond Green was pivotal as the Thunder took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals this year. Imagine this lineup for just one second; Curry, Thompson, Igoudala, Durant, Green. This maybe the most well structured small lineup on paper. And if the chemistry is there for the Warriors, it may just be talked about as one of the best lineups of all time.
Oklahoma City Rebuilders?
We can sit and ask all the questions we want about Golden State until the season starts. That is when we will receive all the answers for those questions. But the question that can and hopefully will be answered soon for Thunder fans is; well, what now?
The Thunder were clearly not ready for Durant to pack up and leave town (much less to the team that knocked them out of the playoffs just a few months ago) and now the organization is forced into a very, very tough decision. With Russell Westbrook’s contract retiring after the 2016-17 season, the Thunder could potentially let him walk for nothing in a similar matter as KD, which would not be in the best interest of the Thunder. Losing two of the top five players in the league for nothing in back to back seasons could send the franchise into a downward spiral, fast. They also dealt away Serge Ibaka’s expiring contract on draft night to acquire Victor Oladipo, the former Indiana Hoosier, but he was looked at as more of a role player that was adding to an already stacked lineup in an effort to keep Durant around. It didn’t work, and now the Thunder have to look at their roster and choose one of two paths; rebuild or compete.
Rebuliding seems to be the most popular choice among the fans and the experts, and its pretty clear why. Unless Russell Westbrook signs long-term, then the roster will be reduced to young role players anyway. Oladipo proved he wasn’t someone of superstar caliber yet while he was with the Magic, not living up to some of the high expectations he obtained after college. Steven Adams has been very efficient, but lacks the offensive skill set to become a first or even second option scoring the basketball. So what can they do about starting this process. It would start and basically end with dealing Russell Westbrook to the highest bidder. There are plenty of teams with a boatload of young talent and draft picks at their disposal who would be more than willing to pick up a Superstar like Russ. from there, you would just need a breakthrough from one young star, or some luck in the lottery. In this NBA, sometimes that’s all it takes. Otherwise, rebuilding can be a long, grueling process. If things don’t go to plan, and more players begin to flop rather than prosper, the city may begin to lose interest. In a somewhat smaller market like OKC, the organization may find that path too risky, and may pursue option B.
Now this may sound crazy, but hear me out. 2016. just may be thee year for the Thunder. And you may be wondering, how? Without KD or Ibaka? With the defending champion Cavaliers still lurking and the Warriors looking like they do now? How?
The Thunder are in a tougher postition no doubt, but they still have Russell Westbrook. And I have a hard time counting Russell Westbrook out of anything. The Thunder is now his team and his team alone. Knowing the fierce competitor that Russ is, I have a feeling thats exactly how he would want it. He already brings enough statistically to provide for two, maybe three players on some nights. And there is just something about him that makes you think, “I don’t know how he will do it, but he will get it done.” It’s that swagger that only the greats have.
And even though I discredited their roster before, this team still has talent and room to grow. Next to Russ in the back court, Oladipo now can play his more natural shooting guard position, rather than sliding down to the point like he did in Orlando at times. This gives Oladipo the best fit of his young career, and could potentially be ready to prove his worth. He can shoot, he can jump, and if you remember him in college. he’s got the heart of a competitor. It will be interesting to see if he flourishes in Billy Donovan’s system. If everyone goes to plan and the Thunder can stay among the top of the Western Conference, if may be enough to convince Russell they can compete, even without KD.
Is there a right or wrong answer? It all really depends on Russell Westbrook and his mindset. If he wants a fresh start, then both him and OKC should move on. If he believes they can win here and now, then why shouldn’t they go for broke? Andre Igoudala even said it in a recent interview with 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, “They were the best team in the playoffs. They played us better than Cleveland, they played us better than anybody.” Will the organization turn their back on what they created and start fresh? Can they?
Only time will tell.
Westbrook signs to three year deal in OKC, Thunder fans take a collective sigh of relief.