The NBA has a new super team.
Kevin Durant stunned the basketball world by agreeing to a contract with the Golden State Warriors. This decision ends a whirlwind weekend full of meetings with six teams, creating a four-headed monster in the San Francisco Bay Area that will become one of the biggest stories in sports.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote in announcing his decision on the Players’ Tribune. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
Over the past four days, Durant met first with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the only team for which he’s ever played, followed by the Warriors, Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. After meeting with the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City Thursday — the day before free agency began — Durant flew to the Hamptons on Long Island and met with all six teams again over the weekend. The Warriors and Clippers came and went Friday, followed by the Spurs and Celtics Saturday — who were aided by a lobbying effort from Tom Brday — and the Heat and then Thunder once again Sunday.
Durant then settled in to make his decision. Once he did — agreeing to a two-year max contract with a player option in the second year — Warriors General Manager Bob Myers had to go to work to create enough cap space to allow Durant to come play in Oakland. Andrew Bogut will have to be traded, while the rights to restricted free agents Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli must be relinquished.
That won’t leave the Warriors with much “Strength in Numbers” — their motto as they won an NBA-record 73 games during the regular season and came within one win of a second straight championship last month — but it will provide them with an overwhelming strength in star power. Between Durant, two-time reigning league MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors have accumulated a level of star talent that dwarfs even what the Miami Heat were able to put together by combining LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010.
Add in 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and backup point guard Shaun Livingston, and the Warriors have an incredible six players at the top of its roster. Golden State will have plenty of work to do to fill out the rest of its roster — the Warriors have only one center, rookie Damian James, on the roster, with only other true big in 2015 first rounder Kevon Looney, who had surgery on both hips over the past 12 months.
But while Golden State won’t have much flexibility to add more, with only the $2.9 million room exception and minimum contracts left to fill the team out around its top six, that’s a problem all 30 NBA teams would happily sign up for having to try and solve.
Ever since Durant lost a hard-fought series in seven games to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals — with the Warriors escaping from a 3-1 deficit to win the series and advance to the finals — it was widely expected the former Montrose Christian star would decide to stay in Oklahoma City on a one year deal with a player option for a second, allowing him to have one more shot at a championship with the Thunder next season before heading into free agency alongside fellow superstar Russell Westbrook.
As this weekend progressed, however, word began to circulate around the NBA that the Warriors were gaining more and more traction as Durant’s meetings progressed — including a phone call between Durant and Warriors executive and Hall of Famer Jerry West on Saturday. In the end, those rumblings proved to be accurate, and they shook the foundation of the league when Durant officially agreed to sign with the Warriors, announcing his decision on the Players’ Tribune.
The fact Golden State now fields a team with four all-stars is just one of many consequences of the NBA’s new television contract, which led to the league’s salary cap jumping from $70 million to $94.1 million this summer. That, combined with Curry still heading into the final year of a below-market contract worth just over $12 million next season, allowed Durant to sign there without the Warriors having to sacrifice any of their top four players — Curry, Thompson, Green or Iguodala — to do so.
It remains unclear what the ramifications will be for the league moving forward. The most obvious question revolves around Westbrook. He already was expected by many to leave the Thunder when his contract expired; will General Manager Sam Presti now look to move him this summer in order to recoup some assets for him? The Thunder already made a similar move in sending Serge Ibaka to Orlando in a draft night trade for guard Victor Oladipo, the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis and forward Ersan Ilyasova.
With Durant now off the market, the rest of free agency will begin to take shape. Future Hall of Famers James, Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili all remain unrestricted free agents, but all four of them are virtual locks to return to the Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Spurs, respectively.
But the reverberations from Durant’s decision will last long past this holiday weekend. The NBA has changed forever, and the balance of power — which already was tilted toward the West Coast — has firmly shifted to the Bay Area.