Stephen Curry’s recent shooting slump–he was awful against San Antonio, mediocre against Minnesota, and started slow in Wednesday’s game against the Clippers–has had a few notable impacts lately.
In the short term, and most obviously, it led to the Spurs loss. It also made the Minnesota game substantially more difficult than the Dubs would have otherwise anticipated.
The long term implication of Curry’s dip could have much larger impacts on the league: it probably makes it more certain that the Warriors will make a run at Kevin Durant.
The noise about Durant possibly signing with Golden State has been broadcasting at variable volumes all season, ever since the subject was first broached earlier in the year. At first, the idea sounded vaguely ludicrous, but in light of recent events, it’s beginning to make more sense–certainly from a basketball standpoint, and perhaps from a business standpoint, too.
Personally, I was not a believer in the Durant to Dubs idea. I’m always skeptical when a championship team tries to add a superstar into their already winning mix. You’ve won a title; why bother bringing in another big star (big player, but also big contract, big ego, and big expectations) when you’ve already demonstrated that you can do all the winning required without him?
But with Curry looking shaky in the last few games, the wisdom of pursuing Durant starts to become more obvious. As good as the Warriors other players are, Curry is the engine that drives their league-leading offense. If you shut him down–as the Spurs did last Saturday–a brilliant, almost unbeatable team suddenly becomes vulnerable.
For all his occasional brilliance–record setting quarters and huge three-point numbers–Klay Thompson still disappears for long stretches. (Not so in Wednesday’s game; Thompson’s scoring was largely responsible for defeating the Clippers.) Draymond Green fills up a stat sheet, every night, but he is not the cornerstone of a the team’s offense. Other players are solid, but none of them are reliable, go-to options when the game is tight–certainly not of the caliber of Stephen Curry.
Durant, however, fills that bill. With Curry and Durant on the same team, you can always have at least one superstar, mind-blowing, virtually unstoppable offensive option on the court. No team, not even the Spurs at their best, could shut down both players at the same time in the same game.
That’s the sense of the thing from the Dubs perspective. For Durant, moving to the Bay Area makes a lot of sense from a competitive standpoint. It’s not happening in Oklahoma City, at least not at the championship level; not since James Harden left, and it’s a major question whom they could add to bring that team back up to that previous level. (And adding won’t help if Russell Westbrook leaves, putting them right back in the same situation as today.) Whatever other team Durant could join, he will not be nearly as close to championship caliber as he would be by joining Golden State. Indeed, if he locks in with a long-term contract with some other potential contender–say, Boston or Toronto or Miami–and he alone does not elevate that team to the championship, there’s a good chance Durant will never win an NBA title. Joining the already-at-the-peak Warriors may be his best–possibly only–chance to get a ring.
Can the numbers be made to work? Probably. Fitting Durant in under the soon-to-be-exploding-upward salary cap will be challenging, but not insurmountable, for Golden State. If they send Harrison Barnes and, perhaps, Festus Ezeli to Oklahoma City–I’m assuming a sign-and-trade, since that would maximize Durant’s dollars–that’s salary off the book and open space on the roster and in the lineup. Certainly, Dubs owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have demonstrated that money will be no object in pursuing a championship; they have yet to pull back from spending any necessary money required to build their championship team.
Finally, the biggest reason that the Warriors pursuing Durant may make sense comes from the situation the Dubs now find themselves in. They are on the verge of an historic season, possibly an all-time winning season, which has them far out ahead of almost every other team in the Association. They are strong favorites to win a second title; only the Spurs seem to be a legitimate roadblock to Golden State’s championship aspirations. Thus, there are two possible outcomes, both of which argue in favor of pursuing Durant:
- If the Warriors lose and don’t win the title, then they will clearly need to improve to get back ahead of whichever team beats them. The most obvious way of making that improvement? Signing the best available player, Durant. Make that happen, and–as long as they don’t need to trade Curry to make it happen–they will instantly be installed as the title favorites again.
- If the Dubs win their second consecutive championship, they will be playing with the largest pile of house money that any team could possibly have. What risk would there be in bringing in Durant in the wake of a second title? Possibly screwing up a third victory, but a “threepeat” is highly improbable anyway. If you’ve already hung two banners, pull out whatever stops you like to win the third.
At the beginning of the season, speculation about Durant joining the Warriors was amusing, but seemed far-fetched and didn’t make much sense. But as things currently stand, getting Durant in blue and gold has become the most obvious target for the Warriors’ off-season. At this point, I see it as more likely than not that KD leaves OKC for Oakland.