By John Albinson
We’re all aware of what happened this summer. Less than a month after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, superstar small forward Kevin Durant inked a two-year, $54.3 million deal with the runners-up. We all know that the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team Durant had spent the entirety of his career on, blew a 3-1 series against the team with whom he would eventually sign. We all know that the Warriors won a NBA-record 73 games last season. We all know that they have the reigning league MVP in Stephen Curry, as well as All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. We all know that the Warriors were already a really good basketball team, and we were all kind of annoyed when Durant joined them. Amidst all of the “Will they win 74 games this season?” and “Let’s just hand them the 2017 Finals trophy already” talk, there was little time to think about the idea of the Warriors not being the greatest team ever. However, if last week’s season-opening 29 point loss says anything, it’s that the Warriors are just as vulnerable as any other team.
Don’t get me wrong: the Warriors will figure it out. There’s too much talent on that roster not to. Durant and Curry are arguably the second and third best players in the league, and Green and Thompson are both coming off seasons of their own in which they made an All-NBA team. They’ll win 50+ games and be, at the very least, a top-three seed in the Western Conference. I’m not writing that getting blown out by the Spurs, which is a top-five team in the league, in the first game of the season is a sign to hit the panic button and write them off as busts. Every team struggles with chemistry issues at some point early on in their formation no matter how good a roster it sports. What I am writing, though, is that it was unfair (and still is) to naturally expect the Warriors to coast to the championship.
There’s two ways to look at this argument, with the first being a Golden State-sympathizer outlook. The Warriors are a massively gifted group of individuals, but at the end of the day, they’re still only human. 82 games is a lot of games to play over the course of a season, and the postseason extends another month-and-a-half. No matter how good you are, winning a championship is never easy—almost everything has to go right in order for it to happen. At any given moment, Kevin Durant could break his arm and miss four months. Steph Curry’s lingering ankle injuries from last season could flare up again. Draymond Green could punch a ref in the face and get suspended for the rest of the year. It’s undeniable that the Warriors are a championship-caliber team, yet that’s a lot different than winning the actual championship.
The other way to view this argument is from the opposite perspective—one with which most Oklahoma City Thunder fans probably align themselves. Basically, it’s this: the Warriors could be overrated. When Durant signed with them this summer, I was hesitant to write off the season and hand them the Larry O’Brien Trophy eleven months in advance. Not because of me having some sort of foresight into the NBA future, but because of the infamous 2012 Los Angeles Lakers. Four years ago, the Lakers signed two-time league MVP Steve Nash and MVP-caliber center Dwight Howard to play with Kobe Bryant and All-Star power forward Pau Gasol. I was in absolute disbelief when this happened, and immediately wrote an article that essentially stated there was no way this team wasn’t going to win it all. I was very, very wrong. In the second game of the season, Nash fractured his leg and missed almost two months. Major chemistry issues developed between Kobe and Dwight, and in one of the final games of the regular season, Kobe tore his Achilles. Instead of being the number one seed in the conference, they finished 45-37 and barely nabbed the last postseason spot, and instead of winning the championship that year, they were swept in the first round.
Obviously, the 2017 Warriors are not the 2012 Lakers. They’re much younger and more talented as a whole, but the point remains the same—there’s no guarantee they’ll be amazing. Who knows if Curry and Durant can coexist? Will Thompson be content with being the third scoring option on the team? Can Draymond adjust emotionally to getting fewer touches? There’s a chance that the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” and Golden State plays like the superteam we labeled them the moment Durant signed that contract. However, some things might go wrong. In a season that lasts nearly eight months, anything can happen. All we can do is just watch and find out.