Let’s not kid ourselves: this was always a two-horse race. And even then, only one steed looked anywhere near fit enough to win this one. Kevin Durant has a lot of people to thank for his current position — four games away from eternal glory on a team perhaps more talented than any ever forged.
He has the Thunder and Russell Westbrook to thank — a franchise and fellow superstar both ecstatic to build around his talents and helping him earn an MVP award.
He also, obviously, has the Warriors to thank. The team was built phenomenally though the draft, and thus had enough cap space to offer him the max contract he deserved.
He must also thank the NBA itself. For although Golden State had a relatively cheap roster coming into last summer, the space requisite to bring Durant in was provided by a $25 million cap spike from recent television revenue. Some say this money has helped big-market teams out-muscle their smaller-market counterparts. I’d ask Oklahoma City about that.
But, perhaps most importantly, Durant must thank the man who will likely be tasked with guarding him this series. Because no matter the ill will felt between these two teams, it was LeBron James who advanced players’ rights and agency, and who made this Golden State roster possible.
Which is why, as LeBron (in my humble prediction) watches the final seconds of Game 5 tick away in Oracle, his team down something like 15 and about to lose a championship, he should acknowledge that he shoulders at least part of the blame for creating this Warriors unit that will get “superteam” a spot in goddamn Webster’s by the end of this.
It was LeBron who conducted “The Decision” in 2010, where he declared that after a league-wide courtship, he would be taking his talents to South Beach to join all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Heat. It was LeBron who enacted this initial concept of empowered player agency.
Sure, athletes had considered the potential for championship success in their choice of where to play (Shaq going to the Lakers, I guess Carlos Boozer?). But having an actual say in roster construction was a Lebron-era development. James opened the door for players to openly consider team-building in their free agency decisions — he, and the other two Miami stars, took less money than they otherwise could have gotten in order to play together. That deal only works with prior agreements in place between the players. It was LeBron who made such monetary sublimation cool, and the whole league felt ripples.
Then he did it again!
After four years of slumming it in Miami, the King returned to the homestead on a super-max deal. Yeah, yeah, super touching. Fact is, without a roster LeBron deemed fit to compete for a title, he’s staying in Miami. But again, it was LeBron making the roster decisions, not the team signing him. His agreement to sign on the dotted line was contingent on other factors that made general manager David Griffin’s title a bit superfluous. And hey, it worked. Three straight finals appearances ain’t bad for a player with two jobs.
But, as goes the constant game of trailblazing, sometimes you get blazed. LeBron introduced the basketball world to monetary sublimation, to taking less so the team could be more, but his Miami teams were only good enough to win two of their four Finals appearances. There was a requisite next step to this process, and it was made this summer by Durant and the Warriors. The second-best player in the world willingly put his alpha persona aside to play on a team full of guys who can play better than him on some nights. The move was the next natural step in the pathway that LeBron created.
The downside? No Warrior made the All-NBA first team. Ho-hum. The individual sacrifice happily continues.
The upside? I think we’re about five games (and about five years) from fully comprehending it.