Kevin Durant: A Gift or a Curse?

New Faces: Kevin Durant, David West, Zaza Pachulia, Damian Jones (R), Patrick McCaw (R)

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 73-9

2015-16 Achievements: 1st: Points, Offensive Rating, Field Goal %, 3-Point % , 2-Point %, Defensive Rebounding, Assists. 2nd:  Blocks, 3-Point % Defense  3rd:  FG% Defense. 4th: Total Rebounding, 2-Point % Defense.  5th: Defensive Rating. 9th:  Steals.

Leading Scorer: Steph Curry, 30.1

Leading Rebounder: Draymond Green, 9.5

The heartbreak of the Kyrie Irving game winner which put a ring on the collapse of the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors won’t be forgotten just because the Warriors added Kevin Durant. Yes, Durant is a a nice little summer diversion to take the Warriors mind off of a total choke job in the NBA Finals. But the larger question is can Durant cure the Warriors LeBron James flu? Or will he curse them with more LeBron James excellence?

Durant has had very little success against James in his career. He has played him 16 times. In 15 of those tussles, Durant has dropped north of 24 points. He has scored 30 points against James 40% of the time. Durant dropped a 40 pointer on the King. But he has only 3 wins against LeBron. He has never beaten LeBron when LeBron wore a jersey other than the Miami Heat. The Warriors savior has been repeatedly throttled by the best player in the NBA.  So is Durant the answer for beating the Cavs? Or is he just the answer for the West?

It is very cliche to predict the Warriors to run roughshod through the Western Conference en route to back to back to back NBA Finals appearances,  the first team to do so since the Lakers did it in 2000, 2001 and 2002. It was much easier to predict that last year the Warriors would not repeat. Of the last 13 NBA champions that were Western Conference teams, the Rockets in the Jordan-less years and the Kobe-Shaq-Kobe-Pau Lakers were the only ones to repeat. The Spurs five titles were all done without a repeat ring. Add the Warriors to that list.

It wasn’t just that the Warriors lost, it was how they lost. Up 3-1 and then without Draymond Green. Up 3-2 and losing game 7. Green played well but everyone else seemed tight, as if the pressure and what was at stake, a 73 regular season being the greatest season in NBA humankind, on the line.The  Kyrie clutch basket will live forever in memory. But what do the Warriors do now?

There were plenty who said I told you so last June. The Warriors were a one year fluke. Too many jump shooters.

The Warriors were a brilliant offensive team last season, in the top five of almost every offensive category, and even though they bristled at being called a three point shooting team, the numbers speak for themselves. They were dominant on the perimeter. Steph Curry shot 45%. Klay Thompson shot 42%. Harrison Barnes shot 38%. Three dominant perimeter players with exceptional efficiency made the Warriors tough to guard and nothing changed in the Finals except Harrison Barnes was a catastrophe, tossing up the ball as if it was made out of bricks.

Exit Barnes. Enter Durant. Durant is a great offensive player, a multi-dimensional talent who can score on the outside and inside. He is a very good defensive player, guarding his position with length. His addition to the Warriors make them an ungodly offensive machine if they can develop chemistry. Expect it to take a little time for it to all flow.

Even with Durant, a lot could go wrong.

A.) Injuries. Fluke and random things happen when you least expect it. The Warriors can’t sustain an injury to Curry or Thompson or Green for any stretch of time. Curry injured in the Finals cost them a ring.

B.) Ego. Can they shake off all that happened to them in June? Do they accept they lost, they were beaten, they gave a 3-1 lead away, they didn’t push through on their potential, and for two years in a row, they have had zero answer for LeBron James?

The Warriors will get everyone’s best shot. Still. The Finals loss won’t change the NBA hiearchy. The arenas will be packed. The crowds will be in a frenzy. Beating the NBA runner up, the super team, will be a litmus test. If the Warriors don’t/can’t handle the hate spewed at them because of their roster, they will take a slip back.

C.) Leadership. There is still a lot we don’t know about the young Warriors. What kind of leaders are they? Are they front runners, built to sustain the pressure? Or are they best when unexpected results catch everyone by surprise? How will they fare under pressure? There are skeptics that think the Warriors are the Celtics of 2008, a one time story that was nice for the league but go away now so the Spurs can do what the Spurs often do. The Warriors have never been here before, asked to raise their game to an even higher level with fans around the league despising them because the rich get richer.

D.) Defense. The Warriors were a terrible defensive team in the Finals. They had no answer for Kyrie Irving on the perimeter or driving to the rim. They had no answer for LeBron James asserting his will. They let Tristan Thompson push them around and Kevin Love, in Game 7, was no longer invisible Kev.

The Western Conference is going to come at the Warriors hard. The Warriors need more drivers drawing contact and getting to the line. They were 23rd in free throw attempts last year. Durant will help that stat.

All summer, NBA coaches have been designing game plans to stop the Warriors perimeter attack. But the facts are the facts. The Warriors are just better than almost everyone they are playing against. This year they have something to prove and it has nothing to do with setting a record. It has to do with redemption.

Regular Season Prediction: 61-21.

photo via llananba