The X-Factor

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It has been a marriage made in heaven since small forward Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors last summer. Durant received a ton of criticism when he joined Golden State last summer in free agency after he spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. To some it appeared that Durant went to Oakland to merely ride the coattails of the Warriors core of point guard Steph Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, and power forward Draymond Green as this trio had already won an NBA Championship together. However Durant’s union was much more calculated and thought out than most people imagine.

The 2016 NBA Playoffs could be categorized as extremely bizarre. Durant and his Thunder teammates had 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and appeared headed for a meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. But instead the Thunder came apart during the final three games of the series and were sent home. In the NBA Finals, the Warriors themselves built a 3-1 series lead over the Cavaliers before they became the first team in league history to lose the championship after being on the cusp in that fashion. And what made it worse was that the Warriors had just set an NBA record for regular season wins as they had gone 73-9. Golden State was constantly being compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who went 72-10 in the route to the NBA Title. However that talk would dissipate as soon as Golden State struggled to get past Oklahoma City.

As the old saying goes “birds of a feather flock together”, and as the Warriors had a glaring need at small forward, while Durant was growing unhappy with the Thunder, the two sides decided to join forces.

Durant was chastised for being a bandwagoner and being weak for joining the Warriors, but his move to the Bay Area should be embraced.

Durant was not happy with the Thunder due to the fact that the team’s starting point guard in Russell Westbrook is not a team first point guard. This past season saw Westbrook become the first player in NBA history since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double. But even though that Westbrook was able to achieve the milestone, he doesn’t make his teammates better. Westbrook is a shooting guard that is trapped in a point guard’s body and he constantly needs the basketball in his hands to excel. Durant needed Westbrook to play off of him and that was not going to happen. And although that Durant and Westbrook had helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals in 2012, they were not any closer to winning it all. So instead of Durant staying in Oklahoma City and being unhappy, he not only decided to leave, however he made up his mind to go to the team that gave him the best opportunity to win it all.

In meeting with the Warriors last summer, Durant was blown away by their camaraderie and togetherness as he knew that these were the players that he needed to be around. So Durant made his decision and as the criticism mounted, he knew that he had to excel as nothing less than a championship was going to leave him open to more criticism.

Due to the Warriors depth, Durant’s offensive numbers slightly dipped as he averaged 25.1 points per game this season compared to 28.2 last season, but his effectiveness has been magnified. Durant’s presence took some of the scoring burden off of Curry, Thompson, and Green as he shot nearly 54% from the field, while he also chipped in by averaging 1.6 blocks.

As a team the Warriors went 67-15 during the regular season in spite of the fact the Durant missed 20 games due to a knee injury. But even with another stellar regular season in the books for the Warriors, it wouldn’t mean a thing without doing it in the spring for a ring.

And unlike last year the Warriors would set the tone while also maintaining it in the NBA Playoffs as they became the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001 to advance to the NBA Finals without losing a game which setup a meeting with the Cavs for the third consecutive year.

The NBA Finals would go on to become the Kevin Durant show as in Game 1, he erupted for 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists to lead Golden State to an easy 113-91 victory as even with the best player in the NBA at small forward for them in LeBron James, the Cavaliers still didn’t have anyone who could slow him down. Durant wouldn’t stop there as in Game 2 he would get Cleveland for 33 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 blocks as the Warriors coasted to the 132-113 win. For the series Durant would average 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists which included going for 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the series clinching victory over the Cavaliers this past Monday night in Game 5. For Durant’s troubles he was named as the NBA Finals MVP, and although that he’ll have some folks say that he took the easy way out, he did the right thing.

Durant was faced with pressure throughout the entire NBA season as people wanted to see him fail and nothing short of a title would have been disastrous for both he and the Warriors. However Durant never backed away from the challenge and when the spotlight was on him, he rose to the occasion.

So now Durant has his first NBA Championship while people must accept the fact that superstar players joining championship caliber teams is not just a recent trend. After the Philadelphia 76ers lost in the NBA Finals two times in a three-year span, they acquired center Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets which finally allowed them to get over the hump in 1983. After power forward Charles Barkley was unable to win an NBA Championship with the Sixers of the Phoenix Suns, he was traded to the Rockets in 1996 to team with center Hakeem Olajuwon and shooting guard Clyde Drexler. But after the Rockets had won it all in 1994 and again in 1995, they would not win another title. 2003 would see power forward Karl Malone leave the Utah Jazz to join the Lakers, and he would have company in the form of point guard Gary Payton as they would look to team with center Shaquille O’Neal and shooting guard Kobe Bryant who had already won three NBA Titles together. 2004 would see the Lakers reach the NBA Finals, however they would be upset there by a Detroit Pistons team that didn’t have star appeal, but they would play as a team. And this would mark the only season in which this quartet played together for the Lakers. We saw the success that the trio of power forward Kevin Garnett, small forward Paul Pierce, and shooting guard Ray Allen had with the Boston Celtics in 2008 which produced an NBA Championship, while LeBron James had his run with the Miami Heat, and now with the Cavs.

However Durant has been vilified since he joined a team that already had a championship pedigree even though that he wasn’t the first guy to realize that the grass was actually greener on the other side of the fence. Durant wasn’t going to stay somewhere that he was unhappy at, and he had a chance to help make a great team greater. Yes the Warriors had been to the NBA Finals in each of the two previous seasons, but Durant was a tremendous upgrade to small forward Harrison Barnes whom Golden State allowed to leave last summer as a free agent. And that difference was displayed when it needed to be in the NBA Finals.

Now it is time for the Cavaliers to see if they’ll be able to somewhat counter what the Warriors were able to do as there is a strong possibility that we can see these two teams meet next year in the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive season. But in the interim Durant got the championship that he has coveted, he didn’t break any laws in signing with Warriors, and most importantly he was the difference maker in another Larry O’Brien Trophy being celebrated in the Bay Area.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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