The Warriors haven’t won title number two yet and prematurely they are talking about changing the entire chemistry of their team to accommodate Kevin Durant, which involves dismantling their team, shipping players out and adjusting to a great scorer. Acquiring Durant is a sexy though greedy thought and at the same time it is a crazy thought because of what the Warriors have at stake. Their juggernaut is still in its beginning stages of efficiency and power and now they want to change it. They need to be careful.
Chemistry, mixed with talent, is a paradox. It’s difficult to measure why certain players mix with one another while others don’t. Talent isn’t necessarily the primary factor. When a team is special, it is because they pull out of each other complimentary factors, they all fit.
It’s a frequent and repeated lie that to be a NBA champion teammates have to be friends. They don’t. Championship teams have done it in different ways. Jordan had icy relationships with his teammates but they won six titles. Shaq and Kobe fought off court, but they three-peated. Magic Johnson was best friends with Byron Scott and Michael Cooper but not Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Tim Duncan took less money to keep Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli in house. Kobe and Pau, to this day, are so loyal to one another, they call each other brother. It’s nothing you can predict on paper. When it happens, it is special. When it doesn’t, general managers are crucified.
Available for the world to see on a nightly basis but what is often forgotten is how the Warriors chemistry developed organically. The front office didn’t put 12 guys together in the same room, at the same time, lock the door, and say make it look flawless. Steph Curry had to develop as a scorer, passer and non-injured player. Klay Thompson had to figure out where he could get his shot off and how to use his length to defend. Draymond Green, a four year college player with a high basketball I.Q., improved every year, including this year. Andrew Bogut had to mine health issues and figure out how he fit within this hybrid Triangle read and react system. Shaun Livingston admits he learned how to be a basketball player when he was in Washington, playing for Flip Saunders. Andre Iguodala came to the Warriors with a defensive resume.
All of these different personalities with different games were put together on the same team, and are tied together by an offensive system that fits them brilliantly. They had to lose together first. They had to be disappointed. Then they had to win, to prove something to themselves. Now, it’s a perfect storm.
The Warriors are not the kind of team where you can move people in and out of the “system”. Their beauty is their chemistry. They are play makers and drivers and scorers and defenders who are unselfish and play fast.
You add pieces to a championship roster to make them better. But the Warriors are as good as they can possibly get. They have two weaknesses this season. They turn the ball over. And they give the opponent too many points, they are ranked 19th in points allowed (even though the Warriors scoring makes that particular metric irrelevant). Other than that, the Warriors are a perfect team.
So why mess with perfection?
Because NBA owners are in love with superstars. If they could put an All-Star team out there (if the collective bargaining would allow it) they would. That means the cash register is always ringing: jersey sales, ticket prices, ad revenue.
But does it work?
Kevin Durant, the latest prize, is being cast as the emerging hero in the Warriors machine-redo. If Steph Curry is the NBA’s best player, then Durant is the third best player, behind LeBron James. It’s been done before, best players in the league on a team, Kobe and Shaq were proof that it can work. But the third, fourth and fifth best players have to be willing to suppress their games. There are only so many shots to go around.
Klay Thompson would have the biggest adjustment. No more 20 point years for him. Durant will get a lot of Thompson’s shots even as Klay will still be paid like a 20 point scorer, banking $17 million.
When Kevin Love went to Cleveland, Chris Bosh reflected on his experience as a former go-to option suddenly being asked to downsize.
“You just get your entree and that’s it. It’s like, wait a minute, I need my appetizer and my dessert and my drink, what are you doing?, and my bread basket, what’s going on?”
It was a clever way of describing what it feels like when your role in the game is reductive. It sounds easy. Put an unselfish player on an unselfish team and things will be smooth. Yes, but…
Durant has never not been the best player on his team. When he was drafted by the Supersonics, he was their best player even though he was 19. His adjustment to the Warriors style would be enormous. It is the same sort of adjustment LaMarcus Aldridge is struggling through with the Spurs. Aldridge freely admits it is difficult not being the center of all the actions. The Spurs are great with Aldridge but is Aldridge as happy now as he was last year?
Players are psycho-social human beings with emotional needs that have to be fulfilled. Winning makes them happy. But using their talents makes them feel complete.
Despite the conjecture, and talk-radio love it or hate it judgments, the Warriors with Durant is a real long shot. The big holdup is Andre Iguodala. The Warriors overpaid him when they signed him as a free agent in 2013. Iguodala’s $11 million is going to be hard to move when you are asking teams to give you nothing but players you can waive, cash you can bank and future draft picks you can barter. Why on earth would a team want to help the Warriors get Durant?
If Bob Myers does find some sucker to load Iguodala off on, who then defends for the Warriors? Who is their stopper? Brandon Rush? Sorry, he’s not in Igoudala’s class. In the Finals, as Iguodala proved last year, teams need a stopper on defense.
The difference between the Warriors and Mike D’antoni’s 7 Seconds or Less nirvana is the Warriors defense. This year, it has taken a little slide in points allowed. Without Igoudala (and Bogut who would have to leave too) the defense will plummet to average.
It’s would be no fault of Durant who is an exceptional scorer. He can pull up and shoot, score on the catch, or iso and post his man in the paint.He rebounds his position. He is a a solid defender but not a shut down defender. His game, his quick release on his shot, his skill on the perimeter, makes the thought intriguing.
But everything has a price. And a consequence. Adding Durant means the Warriors would have to change 25% of their team. Minimum salaried players would be left to fill in the holes, to row the boat.
Why risk perfect?
photo via llananba