Free Agent Kevin Durant Leaves OKC Thunder; Joins Rival Golden State Warriors Creating New Super Team

NBA Free Agency: Kevin Durant shocks the NBA by leaving the OKC Thunder, signs with Western rival Golden State Warriors:

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Via The New York Times:

The biggest question of the N.B.A. off-season was answered Monday when Kevin Durant, one of the best players ever to hit unrestricted free agency in any sport, agreed to join the Golden State Warriors.

Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Warriors, who won an N.B.A-record 73 games in the regular season, lets the rich get richer. Although Durant nearly led the Thunder to a stunning upset of the Warriors in the Western Conference finals this spring, the Warriors ultimately prevailed before losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals.

Now the Warriors, regrouping, have added the 27-year-old Durant, creating a virtual Dream Team out of a starting unit that also includes the All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Warriors now become the overwhelming favorites to win next season’s N.B.A. championship, which would be their second in three years.

While Golden State forward Andre Iguodala joked about finding out the news after logging on to the internet in the middle of a flight, Green was the first prominent member of the Warriors to officially greet Durant online.

“Welcome to THE FAMILY @KDTrey5 let’s just do what we are setting out to do!! #Blockoutthenoise,” Green said on Twitter.

Durant made his announcement on The Players’ Tribune website. While the terms of the deal have not been formally announced, a person briefed on the negotiations said it was a two-year deal worth $54.3 million, with the second year being a player option. The structure of the deal would allow Durant to opt out after next season and take advantage of the escalating salary cap to maximize his earnings.

“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 said in the posting.

“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.”

The reaction to Durant’s decision was swift, with some on social media outlets predictably awarding Golden State the 2016-17 title, and others scorning Durant for leaving Oklahoma City and seeking an easier route to his first championship in the Bay Area.

In that respect, Durant was receiving the same criticism LeBron James endured when he left Cleveland, where he initially failed to win a title, to form a Big Three in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

That threesome did win two titles, including one in which it beat Durant’s Thunder, and James ultimately returned to Cleveland to win a third. But James’s roots are in Ohio, and there were compelling reasons for him to eventually go home. The notion that Durant, who is from the Washington, D.C., area, might someday return to Oklahoma City seems a lot more far-fetched.

Durant has been among the league’s premier scoring threats and best all-around players since being taken by the Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft. The Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in his second season, and Durant won a scoring championship in his third — his first of four such titles in five seasons. He won the league Most Valuable Player Award in 2013-14.

Durant’s talents run the gamut. Listed as a 6-foot-9 small forward, he is most likely closer to 7 feet, and he is capable of playing anything from shooting guard to power forward on offense, while being both quick enough and strong enough to keep up with players ranging from point guards to power forwards on defense.

For the Warriors, Durant will fill a specific need as a player who is far more adept at getting to the basket than anyone on their current roster, a flaw exposed by both the Thunder and the Cavaliers in the recent playoffs, where perimeter defense and a great deal of physical contact seemed to shut down the team’s strategy that involved living and dying at the 3-point line.

The threat Durant brings, of someone who can just as easily penetrate as he can knock down outside shots, would very likely free things up for Thompson and Curry, who have rarely needed much help in that regard but could, almost terrifyingly, become even more effective.

The reshaping of the roster to accommodate Durant’s salary began immediately, as multiple news outlets reported that Golden State was working on a deal to send Andrew Bogut, and his $11 million salary, to the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas also has reportedly agreed to terms with Harrison Barnes, a restricted free agent, if the Warriors renounce his rights, as expected. The two deals would seemingly allow the Warriors to keep Iguodala, their most valuable bench player.

Giving up Bogut, and potentially losing Festus Ezeli as a free agent, would rob the Warriors of both their centers, but there are multiple media reports that Zaza Pachulia, a 13-year veteran, has agreed with Golden State on a modest one-year deal for $2.9 million. That would be a remarkable bargain in a free-agent environment in which Timofey Mozgov, who is not nearly as accomplished as Pachulia, will be making an expected $16 million a year.

Once the dust settles, the Warriors may be forced to part ways with other veteran free agents like Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights, though many capable veterans, like Pachulia, will most likely be willing to take steep discounts to chase a title with Durant and Curry.

With depth having been a key part of the Warriors’ strength-in-numbers approach, all of these potential moves could create new challenges for Coach Steve Kerr.

There will also be an adjustment period for Durant, who has never played in a system with as much ball movement and is unaccustomed to the team-first approach, in which Golden State’s players have often been asked to sacrifice personal statistics for the good of the group.

Still, for Durant to sign with a team already loaded with stars is likely an indication that he is willing to adjust in order to find the ultimate team success that has eluded him thus far.

Like so many things about the N.B.A., the scramble to sign the league’s most elite free agents has become something of a pop-culture phenomenon in recent years, with players like Durant accepting suitors like so much eligible royalty.

Durant chose to conduct his talks with various teams in the Hamptons, a lavish Long Island summer retreat known more for its celebrity culture than for its basketball and about as far removed from Oklahoma City as possible.

And his deliberations, which lasted only a few days, still seemed like an eternity, given the nature of the N.B.A. free-agency period, which is nothing if not frenzied.

Teams were permitted to begin contacting players at 12:01 a.m. July 1, and many deals were struck before most people woke up the next morning. But Durant had the luxury of setting his own timetable because he was, by far, the biggest catch.

Teams tried various ways to impress him. The Boston Celtics were reported to have arrived in the Hamptons with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as part of their entourage.

The Warriors’ delegation to the Hamptons was reported to have included Curry, Thompson and Green.

The Thunder, of course, tried to persuade Durant to stay. For years, he had been paired with Russell Westbrook, another game-changing talent, in one of the most potent one-two punches the game has seen. But the team failed to fully capitalize on its talent, making just one appearance in the N.B.A. finals. In three other seasons, the Thunder bowed out in the Western Conference finals.

It is the last of those three that will linger painfully in Oklahoma City, especially now that Durant is gone. The Thunder had a three-games-to-one lead against the Warriors but could not find a way to a fourth victory, even when they led for most of Game 6 in their arena.

 

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Posted on July 5, 2016, in NBA, Nike, Sports Media World and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Free Agent Kevin Durant Leaves OKC Thunder; Joins Rival Golden State Warriors Creating New Super Team.

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