One-year anniversary: How the Warriors signing Kevin Durant has changed the NBA

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07: (L-R) Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors stands with Kevin Durant
OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07: (L-R) Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors stands with Kevin Durant /

On the one-year anniversary of the Golden State Warriors signing Kevin Durant, here’s a look at how the move has changed the NBA.

Today is July 4th, the 241st anniversary of the day America secured its independence. It is also the one-year anniversary of the day the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant.

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And thanks to Kevin Durant, every July 4th from this point on, I will be blessed with the memory that, in fact, the Golden State Warriors did sign Kevin Durant. It’s honestly better than any barbecue or fireworks display that I will ever attend.

For me, it will be a good memory: waking up to my phone buzzing with the news, reading the Players’ Tribune article and realizing that the Warriors were adding a generational player to a 73-win team.

For others — and perhaps the 29 other teams — it’s a bad memory, and no one can blame them. The team with the reigning two-time MVP and two other All-Stars that had already won a championship and were one game away from another one just signed the best player in the league not named LeBron James. That’s insane.

But you know what’s even more insane? Everyone talking like the Warriors had already won the 2017 championship. People complaining that the Warriors had ruined the league, that somehow their superteam was unfair. Fans going on Twitter, calling Durant a “snake,” wearing shirts with cupcakes on them (which is even funnier now because KD got the last laugh).

I’ve already written about why the Warriors are underappreciated, why they should be recognized for being a team that built a dynasty the proper way — from the ground up — instead of universally scorned for being “too good.” It’s honestly ridiculous. Jordan’s Bulls weren’t criticized when they literally won six championships in eight seasons in the ‘90s. Neither were the Lakers when Kobe and Shaq joined forces and they won three straight titles. LeBron caught some flak when he went to the Heat, but not to this extent.

For some reason or other, there’s something about the Warriors that pisses people off. Maybe it’s the way Steph Curry turns around before his threes even go in, and then celebrates like a happy little kid because he has superpowers that you don’t. Maybe it’s the way Draymond Green gets under opponents’ skin so effectively. Maybe it’s the fact that they have Kevin Durant. Perhaps it’s Klay – never mind, it’s impossible to hate on Klay Thompson. I mean, how can you hate on this man?

Look, I can kind of feel for everyone else. The Warriors are just too damn good, and they make sure everyone knows it. That has to rub off the wrong way on anyone who cares passionately about the team they’re annihilating on any given night. And the fact that this team — a team that was already too good before adding Kevin Durant — signed Kevin Durant just poured fuel onto the fire.

There are two ways to look at what the KD signing did to the NBA. The first is the shortsighted way: cry like a baby, scream about how unfair it is and complain about the lack of parity in the league. The second is to be rational — to recognize that while it did make the rich richer, the Warriors signing Kevin Durant will eventually be seen as a good thing for the NBA. It will be seen as a win for free agents who were previously afraid that their preferred destination might be controversy, and, in the next few years, it will be apparent that other teams want to do exactly what the Warriors did: stockpile superstars, go for the home run during free agency and try to construct a team that can compete with this superteam of all superteams.

I’m tired of defending the Warriors signing Durant. What he did is literally no different from what every other free agent does: look at what he wants, seek out the best opportunity and go for it. What Durant wanted was a championship and a better system than he had on the Oklahoma City Westbrooks. The Warriors provided that opportunity, and so he went there. Simple as that.

It’s a big win for player freedom. People act like Durant betrayed Oklahoma City, like he owed them something. Kevin Durant owed Oklahoma City nothing. He only played for them because he was drafted by that franchise — by the way, the same franchise that betrayed the city of Seattle by moving to Oklahoma City out of the blue. Please tell me why an owner can act in his best interest and deprive a basketball-loving city of its only pro basketball team and billions of dollars in revenue and then tell me that a player can’t also act in his best interest and choose wherever he wants to play? Hypocrisy at its finest.

Others have pointed out that players like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird never left their respective teams. But Magic won a championship his rookie season with the Lakers. Bird won it his second year with the Celtics. What reason did they have to leave? They were drafted into the perfect situation and they quickly became the faces of marquee franchises. Durant, meanwhile, was drafted by a bad team that moved to Oklahoma City. I’d want to leave, too.

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 10: James Harden
LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 10: James Harden /

What we have learned from the Durant decision a year later, though, is that executives are being more aggressive and willing to make changes, because the only way to beat a mega-superteam is to build one of your own. Houston took a gamble by trading for Chris Paul with the hopes of pairing him with James Harden and potentially attracting a third star like Carmelo Anthony. Oklahoma City took an even bigger risk on Paul George (who made it clear he wanted to sign with the Lakers after next season) by trading for him, banking on a potential one-two punch with Westbrook. Minnesota traded for Jimmy Butler to link him up with young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Cleveland is reportedly trying to beat out Houston to nab Anthony — should Carmelo receive a buyout from the Knicks — because even the Cavaliers with three stars know they need a fourth to compete with Golden State.

As we saw last season, the Warriors can win games with just pure talent. You can play your best game — offensively and defensively — and the Warriors can still beat you with their “C” game. I mean, the Cavaliers had to set an NBA Finals record with 86 points at halftime and 24 made threes to even win a game against the Warriors.

So for other teams, the only way to combat that is load up with talent of your own. Put CP3 and Harden or Westbrook and George on the same team. Add Carmelo to the Cavs, Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. Create every single quasi-super team possible, and give the Warriors your best shot.

That’s what it’s come to. The Warriors, by signing Kevin Durant and rolling through the league with ease, have forced this ultra-aggression around the NBA, with everyone wanting to sign their version of Kevin Durant.

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Now, will it work? Not next season. As it stands, the Warriors have proven they can beat the Cavs. They can beat the Rockets, Thunder or Timberwolves, who are talented, but not quite enough. I would bet a lot of money on the Warriors repeating next season, and probably winning finishing off a three-peat.

How long the Golden State dynasty goes depends on how fast other teams develop. You need one star before you can get two. You need two before you get three. And, if somehow anyone reaches Warriors status, you need three stars before you have four. Until another team gets there, this is the Warriors’ NBA. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Kevin Durant this past year, it’s that in order to beat a superteam, you have to be one yourself.