On June 19, 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers accomplished the improbable by erasing a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, presenting Cleveland with its first professional sports championship since 1964. On that same night, there stood a Golden State Warriors team and its fanbase distraught after blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals and not putting the cherry on top of its historic regular season.
The Warriors had been the darlings of the NBA since the 2013 playoffs when they upset the Denver Nuggets and ultimately lost to the San Antonio Spurs after taking them to a thrilling six-game series. This upward trajectory in popularity continued as Golden State won the NBA Championship in 2015, Stephen Curry won back-to-back MVPs and the team set an NBA record for wins in a season at 73. People’s perceptions of the Warriors, however, would soon change. This heartbreaking championship loss left the organization with a central question: What’s next?
Warriors owner Joe Lacob is known for his fiery spirit and competitive drive. After the NBA Finals loss, Lacob was asked what’s next for his team as he left Oracle Arena.
“All I can say is I will be very aggressive,” said Lacob as reported by ESPN NBA insider Marc Stein.
His answer was blunt and set the tone for the ensuing NBA offseason. The brief remark said it all. Fans and critics alike knew what was on the horizon. Lacob and the Warriors were going to actively pursue NBA superstar Kevin Durant, and there was no doubt about it.
Though it seemed unlikely that Durant would leave the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors did not seem to operate in this same mindset. On July 1, the Warriors got the meeting of their dreams. Durant met with the Warriors in the Hamptons for his free agency meetings.
He met with the Warriors for several hours, yet no agreement was reached by the end of their meetings. Consequently, the sports world waited as Durant continued to meet with other teams the following day. Fan bases hoped and dreamt of Durant joining their prospective teams.
Then finally, July 4, Durant reached a decision. He released a short article on “the Players’ Tribune” titled “My Next Chapter” via his Twitter, sharing that he would be signing with the Warriors in free agency. This decision altered the focus, outlook and opinions of Golden State in an instant .
Durant’s choice took the league by storm. Numerous sports analysts and fans were in a state of shock. Others were irate that a team with the NBA’s best-ever regular season record — not to mention a team that already featured three all-stars in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — added a player of Durant’s magnitude.
Entering this season, the Warriors are going to be on everyone’s radar. The writing’s on the wall for this team right, wrong or indifferently. It is championship or bust this upcoming season.
The shift of NBA darling to villain is going to be new territory for this Warriors’ team. Even though the Warriors were the defending champions in 2015, this season’s level of critique and scrutiny is going to be far different.
Golden State now has arguably two of the league’s top three players on the same team. The two superstars will have to learn to coexist and play the game with one another while simultaneously being in an ever-watching media spotlight.
But Curry and Durant are clearly selfless players. These two would not have joined forces in the first place if it was truly about individual stats and accolades. Durant and Curry are both former league MVPs and have had a lot of time to shine in this league. Their greatest source of motivation now is chasing rings before the clock runs out. This thinking adds further clarity to Durant’s ultimate decision to join the Warriors.
Of course Durant and the Warriors are going to be vilified. This is just the nature of the beast. An organization does not put a team of this caliber together and not expect any sort of retroaction. Durant articulated it best during his introductory press conference with the Warriors.
“No. I mean we live in the superhero comic book world where you’re either a villain or you’re a superhero if you’re in this position, and I know that, and I know I haven’t changed as a person,” Durant said.
Durant is coming into this new environment with the right mentality where he understands the nature of his limelight. He knows he cannot listen to the outside chatter but rather just focus on his craft and acclimate to his new surroundings with Golden State.
This is real. Oklahoma City’s darling Kevin Durant is no more. He now joins forces with three other big time players, creating a big four that will be under immense pressure reflective of the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh-era Miami Heat.
The pressure is on once the calendar hits Oct. 25, the Warriors’ regular season opener. Beautiful basketball is on the horizon for this new look and a revamped Golden State roster.
Get your popcorn ready, people. There is no denying Warriors games will be must-watch television this season. Many now consider this team the NBA’s villains; whether you feel that way or not, get ready for the show.
Contact Ryan Groves at [email protected].