Sorry to interrupt your Independence Day, but Kevin Durant just signed with the Golden State Warriors.ESPN’s Marc Stein is reporting that it’s a two-year deal worth $54.3 million.
Durant’s decision is somewhat surprising, and it’s already sending shockwaves throughout the country. Stephen A. Smith has already hailed it as the weakest move he’s ever seen from a superstar. People on Twitter are poking fun at Durant for this tweet he sent back in 2010. Many others are now claiming that there is no reason to watch basketball now that the Warriors have assembled arguably the greatest roster in NBA history. I’m not interested in discussing all of that, though I’d like to mention that we have no problem with teams cutting and trading players in order to do what’s best for their team, so why can’t we accept that players can do what they feel is in their best interest as well?
However, what I really want to discuss is how this move, contrary to what people are saying, is tremendous for the NBA. First of all, this signing does not alter the competitive balance in the league nearly as much as one might think. Say you’re a mediocre team like the Denver Nuggets, for instance. Even if Durant had stayed in Oklahoma City, is it realistic to think that you have a chance to win the championship anyway? The answer is no. Only a few teams enter the season with a real shot at a title: Durant’s decision doesn’t change that reality for a majority of the NBA’s 30 teams.
This move does, however, have far more of an impact on teams like Cleveland, San Antonio, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Those are the teams whose championship aspirations took a serious hit.
Yet this actually makes next year’s NBA season more dramatic. The reason why is that this upcoming year will now have a true David vs Goliath feel. It is this dynamic of a weak underdog taking on a seemingly indomitable opponent that makes for the most compelling narrative in sports.
Think back to two of the most memorable moments in recent sports history. The most excitement I’ve ever seen in baseball was when the 2004 Boston Red Sox climbed out of a 3-0 hole to beat the Yankees. Though the two teams were evenly matched judging by their regular season records, the Red Sox were left for dead after falling into a seemingly insurmountable deficit. The Red Sox were David; the Yankees were Goliath. Without this imbalance, we could never have enjoyed a comeback as epic as that 2004 ALCS.
In the NFL, we have never seen a game in terms of storylines, historical importance, and excitement better then when the 16-0 Patriots met the 10-6 Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Obviously all Super Bowl’s are hyped up by the media, but the anticipation for, say, Super Bowl XLVII between the 10-6 Ravens and 11-4-1 49ers didn’t compare to Super Bowl XLII. Both of those teams were “evenly matched,” yet what game was ultimately more intriguing? Super Bowl 42, obviously, because you had the possibility of seeing either history or an enormous upset.
We have this same set up for this upcoming NBA season. We’ll either have the privilege to watch what may be the greatest team ever assembled in the NBA or see a colossal upset even greater than the 3-1 comeback the Cavaliers just pulled off against the Warriors.
Or, maybe what many experts are saying will happen comes to fruition: That the NBA won’t be worth watching because the Warriors are already “guaranteed” to win championships for as long as Durant, Stephen Curry, and company stay together. But let’s hold our horses a little bit. We all remember when LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat and the basketball world started anticipating not if the Heat would win a title, but how many (not five, not six, not seven…). Sure, the Heat went on to appear in four Finals, but they only won two. Plus, it’s not like either of those titles came easily. Miami was down 3-2 to Boston before coming back to win in the 2012 Eastern Finals and they were literally bringing out the championship ropes in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals when San Antonio seemed like they had the series won. Moreover, remember how it took a year and a half for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to mesh? No one anticipated that happening. Who is to say there isn’t an adjustment period for the superstars on the Warriors?
Yet even if everything works out swimmingly for Golden State and they became a juggernaut, let’s keep in mind one more thing: Durant’s deal is only for 2 years. Say he stays and the Warriors win two titles without much resistance. I bet there’s a good chance he’ll pick up his bags and sign elsewhere now that he has his rings. And this brings me to my final point: Durant’s deal is great for the NBA because it means he should become a free agent again within the next two years. When superstars like Durant or LeBron hit free agency, it becomes the top story in the sports world. The repercussions of these decisions send shockwaves throughout the NBA: New contenders emerge; tension builds; rivalries arise. All in all, the NBA is the primary beneficiary of it all because it leads to more discussion, more interest, and more passion about their product.
Sure, I’m a tad disappointed that Durant decided to join an already outstanding Warriors team. But it won’t deter me one bit from following the NBA or rooting passionately for the Celtics, my favorite team. It actually will make me more invested, and that’s just what the NBA wants.