This NBA season unraveled into the expected. Everyone predicted a Cavs-Warriors Finals, and many expected the Warriors to be an unstoppable force with the addition of Kevin Durant. However, what we couldn’t predict is the dramatic effect his move has had on the NBA landscape and the product fans watch.
Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals were not close. The opener felt like an All-Star Game with crazy dunks and J.R. Smith continuing to make “business” decisions on the defensive end. Game 2 was better, only a three-point game at the half with much more competitive play from Cleveland. But as ESPN’s Chauncey Billups said after the game, Golden State is always two minutes away from blowing out any team, and the Cavs hit a rough spot in the 4th quarter.
The most troubling part of these NBA Finals, for me as a fan, is that after a predictable regular season and an awful postseason, the Finals were billed as the matchup that would drum up intrigue. In the past, I’ve never wanted to change the channel when the NBA Finals were on, soaking up every minute of the action. But in the first two games of this series, as soon as the barrage of Golden State threes starts falling, I find my attention wandering. And while this series is far from over, it’s hard to remain excited as a fan if the NBA Finals, the supposed “pinnacle” of basketball, is so lop-sided every game.
I blame Kevin Durant. While the superstar had every right to make his move to Golden State last summer as a free agent, his haters now have every right to say “he’s made the league unfair by joining his toughest opposition.” Just look at two of the storylines to come out after Game 2: “Are Steph Curry and Kevin Durant the best duo of all time?” and “Has KD surpassed LeBron James as the greatest player in the world?”
No one wants to see LeBron James get to the Finals this easily and then get annihilated by Golden State.
As a fan who does not have a dog in the fight (the Knicks probably can’t even spell championship), I’m frustrated by the fact that Cleveland seemingly has no options on the defensive end to stop the Warriors. Their gameplan for defending the Warriors gets blown to pieces because Golden State can beat teams in a million different ways. Stop them at the 3-point line? KD hits the post, and Steph lobs it to JaVale McGee. Double team either Durant or Curry? Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will torch you. Make the role players beat you? Well, Andre Iguodala could drop 20 himself, and between Shaun Livingston and David West, the Warriors mix it up unlike any team.
ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy is not crazy when he says the Warriors could make it to 8-10 straight NBA Finals. They’ve already been to three straight, and with Durant reportedly willing to sacrifice money in order to stay with the Warriors, their futures appear set (barring injuries of course).
But that isn’t good for the NBA. No one wants to see LeBron James get to the Finals this easily and then get annihilated by Golden State. The biggest criticism of the Miami Heat’s Big 3 was that it was unfair to “buy” three superstars and put them on one team. In reaction, the NBA made it even harder for the big market teams to assemble such a cast, and tried to help the little teams out in the process. But Golden State played it by the rules, with three of their best players homegrown and signed to reasonable deals, it allowed them maneuver with the roster and easily fit in Durant.
Many have said that their is a growing “championship or bust” mentality in the NBA, Durant felt the increasing pressure, and it was one of, if not the main reason he chose Golden State. But if this pressure is so great that we have world-class players joining already assembled super teams, then how can the league thrive? Why have 30 teams? Why not have four teams with all-star caliber players on the roster from 1 to 15. If this mentality is the only mentality allowed to survive in today’s NBA, then the choice is clear for Paul George next summer when he’s a free agent: He needs to sign with Cleveland. What’s the point of joining any other team or remaining with the Pacers?
So whether or not these Finals have a few more twists and turns in store for us, I think KD is to blame for a greater shift in the NBA than even he could have predicted. Super teams are no longer the future. They're the present. And that's only going to make the regular season more meaningless and sets up the Finals to be a competitive disaster.