Whether you like it or not, Kevin Durant is an NBA Champion and Finals MVP. I will not speak about my feelings on the move that he made to join the Golden State Warriors this past offseason because honestly, this is not the time to do that. Instead, I will talk about what is and what will result from that move. Although there were many that believed that the Warriors would have made it back to this year's Finals even with last year's roster, and possibly even still been the favorite, there is NO DOUBT, that Kevin Durant was a major upgrade over Harrison Barnes and made the gap between Cleveland and Golden State much wider. Kevin Durant had an all-time great performance in this NBA Finals. He averaged 35 points, eight rebounds, and five assists per game all while shooting 55% from the field; it was efficiency the likes of which we've rarely seen on display. Scoring at any time during the game seemed to come effortlessly to Durant, as we already knew it could. He was a mismatch NIGHTMARE for the Cavaliers as there was NO ONE, including LeBron James, that could stop KD from getting to whatever spot he wanted to on the court.
Kevin Durant also did not shrink in the moments when the pressure of the game was at its peak. Instead, he showed the poise and demeanor of a true champion. In Game 3 on Cleveland's home court, the Warriors were down two with thirty seconds left in the game. After a missed field goal by Cleveland, Kevin Durant came up with the rebound. Without looking to the sideline to his coach for a play, he calmly dribbled up court in rhythm, and with LeBron James (the player who people call Durant's kryptonite) waiting for him at the three point line, pulled up for a silky smooth three-point jumper that hit the bottom of the net to seal the deal for the Warriors. This is what we have wanted from Kevin Durant all along.
Whether you respect his decision to go to the Golden State Warriors or not, Durant validated his decision with his performance this postseason.
So What Happens Next?
The reason why NBA fans were upset with Kevin Durant for joining the Golden State Warriors is that in a league with, at best, five truly elite title contenders at a time, Durant left one contender and did not help form a new one. In addition to that, the team he joined had just beat his former team in the Western Conference Finals, in a series where Durant's team gave up a 3-1 lead. It felt as if Durant was hopping on the bandwagon of a championship team. His decision would swing the competitive balance so much in favor of the Warriors that barring injury; you already knew what the result would be.
Durant has already said that he is planning on taking a pay cut so that the Warriors can remain together. Stephen Curry is not planning on leaving either, which means the Warriors' core four of Curry, Thompson, Durant, and Green will remain intact for at least another two to three years. If they won a championship in their first go-around with each other, it is scary to imagine how the thought of how the chemistry is going to continue to develop amongst these players. The argument can be made that even though they won the Championship this season, we still haven't even seen the best that this group has to offer because at times Klay Thompson still looked like he had not fully adjusted to being the third scoring option on the team. If this Golden State Warriors team can reach another level, then we may very well truly be watching the greatest team of all time. Now, if there is any positive from this entire situation, it is that great teams cause great change. We see that by all of the rumors swirling around this offseason. General managers are being forced to try and gather as much talent as possible or try and gather pieces for the future.
Is There Anything That Can Be Done?
There are a lot of moving parts that will be shifted around this summer by way of the draft and free agency. The problem is as it currently stands, the moves that are being discussed serve to make things interesting possibly, but nothing that would remove Golden State as the definitive title favorite, outside of any injury. The San Antonio Spurs are rumored to be possibly interested in acquiring Chris Paul. The Spurs did hold a 23 point lead over the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals before Kawhi Leonard, unfortunately, re-injured his ankle. So we cannot sneeze at the notion that Chris Paul going to the Spurs could have a serious impact. Even then, we would have to wait and see how Paul, who is a very ball-dominant point guard, plays under Coach Popovich, a coach that predicates ball movement in his system. Boston is discussing picking up Gordon Hayward and possibly trading the number one overall draft pick for a proven star like Jimmy Butler or Paul George. Let's be honest here though, forget the Warriors, are we even sure that move makes the Celtics better than the Cleveland Cavaliers?
The Celtics have to make the tough decision on whether they should mortgage their future in a "win-now" attempt that does not even guarantee they would be the best team in their conference. Speaking of Cleveland, the Cavaliers had to break the NBA Finals record for threes made in a game, and that was to beat the Warriors ONCE in their series. LeBron James, who is STILL the best player in the world, averaged a triple-double (first time it had ever been done in the NBA Finals) and it meant nothing because of all the firepower that Golden State contains. The rumors that have been swirling around the Cavaliers since the Finals involve everything from Kevin Love being traded to Carmelo Anthony somehow signing with the team for the veteran's minimum. Golden State also has Cleveland facing a double-edged sword in certain regards. As a team, the Cavaliers need to worry about trying to match the talent of the Warriors with limited cap flexibility, while at the same time, try to figure out whether LeBron will leave Cleveland again considering he has already fulfilled his promise of bringing a championship to his hometown team.
Long Story Short...
The Warriors are shifting the structure of the league because of their immense talent. They have been to the last three NBA Finals, and the core four of their team is smack dab in the middle of their prime and will not be going anywhere anytime soon. As long as this core remains intact, barring any unforeseeable trades or signings in the near future by other contenders, the Warriors will be heavily favored to get to AND WIN the Finals for at least the next three years. As much as I hate to jump to conclusions, ladies and gentlemen, we may have just entered the beginning stages of an NBA dynasty taking place in the Bay Area.
Aulton Hargett is an aspiring sports journalist and television personality.