I keep meaning to write a piece on the current baseball season, but the NBA keeps stealing its thunder, and if you pardon the pun, the Thunder have had something pretty major stolen in the last 24 hours.
I was on a train home last night when the Awful Announcing Twitter feed dispensed the news. Kevin Durant was leaving Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors. In many ways I was shocked, but logical brain wasn’t. Kevin Durant had never said he was definitely staying, and when a player faces unrestricted free agency there is always the chance his head will be turned. Durant had always said the right things, that he believed that OKC were the favourites to sign him, but he never said he would definitely stay. That’s crucial.
So, when I heard that the race was between the Celtics (up and coming, but still rather limited even with Al Horford, who I think makes an average team good, but not a good team great), the Warriors (will they have too much firepower) and the Thunder (Western Conference finalists, but unable to get over the last hurdle to the finals) logic would suggest going to the team almost guaranteed to win the most. The contract is interesting – two years at $27m per year, with a player option at the end of one (when free agents can expect an even bigger boom in their pay packets – it is almost certain Durant will opt out then) so there can be buyer’s remorse in a short period of time if this doesn’t work out. According to this site Klay Thompson is signed through another three seasons, Draymond Green through four, and the crux of the matter comes next season when Steph becomes a free agent, as does Andre Iguodala. Next summer is going to be fun in the Bay Area.
So what of this year? Well there are two clear precedents in the theory of the nuclear arms race in the NBA and neither were successful in year one. Perhaps the closest fit is the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers, who added Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two superstars at the end of their careers, chasing rings with Shaq and Kobe. Of course, that ended in a Finals flameout against the Detroit Pistons, amid recriminations and regret. The other is the LeBron James sweepstakes as he and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach to join Dwayne Wade to win championships. The first year ended in failure at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, before two seasons of championship basketball ensued. With Durant added to Thompson, Curry, Green et al, this looks like a very serious team. However, maybe all is not assured. While an effective trade for Durant means giving up Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, and that looks great on paper, there are questions about the Warriors size. When challenged physically in the play-offs, the Warriors looked to be completely out of the comfort zone, and they are going to need to secure rebounding talent to assist this star-studded line-up. Either that, or Draymond Green is going to be knackered in a fortnight.
If you want a less assured response to the trade, then the comments on Fansided seem to go over the top. They start with the proper antidote to some of the nonsense about how this means the Warriors are expected to win 75 games next year (utter hokum) because you don’t just add Durant’s points to the total the Warriors got this year, as we all know. There’s still only one basketball between the two teams playing. But some of the conspiracy nonsense is out there:
Adrian Wojarnowski of the Vertical said that the sole reason Nike wanted Durant in Golden State was to take away Stephen Curry and Under Armour’s shine. This is what Durant will do, he will come in and get 20 shots per game. Curry’s points per game will decrease, Klay Thompson’s points and shots will decrease and Green will be lucky to score 14 points per game this season.
Really? Woj is great, but is this really a thing? Can we take this seriously? As many point out, Steph Curry is the most popular player in the league, probably since Michael Jordan, because of the flashy, showy player he is. Durant has always been really well respected, a fundamentally sound player, but does he push the entertainment buttons. Isn’t it a bit like comparing Tim Duncan to Kobe Bryant?
The final impediment could be expectations. With Durant’s move the Warriors became the 2010-14 Miami Heat on steroids. It isn’t good enough for the Warriors to win the championship but they will be expected to win 75 plus games and go 16-0 in the playoffs next season. Those are lofty expectations, though the Warriors have shown they can handled pressure.
That’s silly. Expectations, yes, but the Warriors hold that record now, the Spurs may be on their tails, but no-one else really is as the Thunder have lost their best player, and the Clippers seem to be stuck in mid-range stasis. So while you could probably put your house on a third Warriors v Cavaliers Finals next year (outside of major injuries to stars, of course), the coast hasn’t got rougher for the Warriors, but probably easier. I don’t expect them to win 70. I think Kerr will rest players more, and the Warriors might coast quite a bit of the Regular Season. So I don’t think that fear is there. As for the 16-0 in the play-offs? That’s being daft.
Durant to the Warriors makes them the favourites, but I’d suggest they were that anyway this season. I think chasing 73 wins, a tough play-off series with Curry never consistently at his best post-injury and a refocussing would have put them over the top with the Cavaliers. I think, if anything, that the Durant move poses some questions. The chemistry and depth of the Warriors was their strength. They have given up a key, if limited, defensive player to acquire Durant, who bangs around in the paint. KD is many things, but he isn’t a down in the trenches player. They need one or more of them to compensate. KD does stretch the offense, but as many have found, getting players their shots is important, and Green stands to lose most (and he’s not known as the most level-headed guy). Also, KD and Steph are two alpha-male players with beta-male attitudes. That they co-exist, while not forgetting Klay and Draymond, is going to be a serious coaching challenge. It’s set to be amazing.
Bulls Secure Rondo
So the Bulls have lost Joakim Noah to the Knicks and Pau Gasol to the Spurs, after the farewell to Derrick Rose. In their stead, and presumably to give the illusion that they are trying, the Bulls have recruited Rajon Rondo on free agency from the Sacramento Kings. Now, the 2008-9 era version of Rondo would have been a “yes please” acquisition, but I think it fair to say that the media are pretty convinced that’s not who they are getting.
Sports Illustrated let them have it in a magnificent diatribe! http://www.si.com/nba/2016/07/03/nba-free-agency-rajon-rondo-chicago-bulls-grades
To anyone paying attention, and to any front office with a reasonable solution at point guard, Rondo is no longer worth the hassle. Although he shot a career-best 36.5% on threes and posted a respectable 16.9 Player Efficiency Rating for the Kings, he again failed to translate his own individual production into team success. Sacramento’s offensive efficiency rating was higher with Darren Collison on the court rather than Rondo, in large part because the latter is a flow-killer thanks to his ball-stopping and a floor-cramper thanks to his shaky jumper and reluctance to attack the hoop in search of his own offense.
Any other complaints?
Defensively, Rondo hardly resembles the player who earned four All-Defensive selections while in Boston. He alternates between reckless gambling and inexplicable ambivalence, ranking 30th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and posting a terrible 106.8 Defensive Rating for a Kings defense that ranked 23rd in Defensive Efficiency. Chicago’s other top point guard option, the 34-year-old Jose Calderon, played such poor defense last season that it was the subject of tabloid headlines. Nevertheless, Calderon posted better marks in both DRPM and Defensive Rating than Rondo. That’s remarkable and, frankly, tragic.
OK, I’m guessing you don’t think there’s an upside here?
Even Rondo’s most stubborn apologists—those who delude themselves into thinking his triple doubles are significant, point out that his numbers have recovered since a serious knee injury in 2013 and buy into the notion that he’s merely “eccentric”—had to question their support during his ugly incident with referee Bill Kennedy last December. Not only did Rondo cross way over the line during the confrontation with Kennedy that led to his ejection, he first issued a muddled statement that fell short of an apology. Finally, after ducking the media and setting off a firestorm of criticism, Rondo issued a second statement that included an apology.
The Kennedy episode was the latest example of Rondo being his own worst enemy. At the end of the 2014–15 season, Rondo bailed on the Mavericks during the middle of a playoff series after butting heads with coach Rick Carlisle at multiple points during the season. Before that, Rondo drew three suspensions in 2012 (for throwing a ball at a referee, for making contact with a referee and for engaging in a fight) and another a suspension in 2013 (for bumping a referee again). While Rondo was a key member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team, doing very well to keep a loaded cast of stars on track, he hasn’t played in a postseason win since 2012.
No, definitely not a fan…
Defenders of this move will point to the fact that the Bulls can simply part ways with Rondo next summer. As the Kings discovered during their circus of a season, it’s never quite that simple, is it? SI.com gave Sacramento an “F” last summer for its decision to ink Rondo, and nothing that has happened since then indicates Chicago deserves more favorable treatment.
The occasional breathtaking assist simply comes at too high of a cost. Even Vlade Divac managed to figure that out. Grade – F
The portents aren’t good. There’s still a feeling that the Bulls are shopping Jimmy Butler and about to embark on a full-blown rebuild, but from what I’ve seen that has to be resisted. I wouldn’t put John Paxson and Gar Forman in charge of rebuilding a garden shed, let alone a franchise which undermined the best coach it had had in a generation. The Bulls are set to be in the wilderness for a long time, without star players, deluding themselves that there are loads of stars tripping themselves to follow in the legacy of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen et al. They soon get tired of all that, and in the case of Rose, almost desperate to leave. Rondo seems quite a fit when you consider it like that.
The offseason may calm down a little after this, but the earthquake around Durant will reverberate around the league. Screamin’ A Smith, a man who certainly doesn’t like being ignored, call his move “the weakest by a superstar in league history”, berating Durant for taking the easy option, and daring anyone not to compare it to LeBron’s move to Miami. Screamin’ is a rabble rouser, and no-one should pay any heed to his wibble, but the suspicion is there that Durant may have taken an easy option. After all, it was Durant who didn’t particularly like LeBron moving to Miami all those years ago……
But this is boom time for the Screamins and Skips of this world. Of course, Bayliss is moving / has moved on but Screamin was doing the rounds yesterday with his nonsense. In any other sport a player going to a potentially win now situation is given barely a glance. I know how I felt when players went to the Yankees in the 2000s, and that’s what make its sweeter to beat them. It’s not weak of Durant, it’s common bloody sense. Westbrook may well be gone next year, and then what. Durant and the Stiffs? No. He saw a great chance now, and the Warriors would have been daft to let it go. It’s not weak, but sadly it is the most logical. Scream on Screamer.