The greatest team of all time. That’s an honor not hastily bestowed in the afterglow of a championship win, let alone a free-agency signing. Yet here we are, wishing and fearing. Kevin Durant took to The Players’ Tribune to announce his agreement with the Golden State Warriors on a two-year deal worth $54.3 million, with a player option after the first season. Mychal Thompson had anticipated the move back in April 2015, when the Warriors were in the midst of their title run; Chris Broussard and Adrian Wojnarowski both reported a leaguewide sense that the Warriors had become a leading candidate for Durant’s services early this year.
Through 82 games, Golden State pushed our understanding of what a team is capable of. Their postseason failure at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers left them vulnerable — for all of two weeks. Today, they’ve pushed it further. We’ve reached a new limit to our collective basketball imagination. The Warriors have become the basketball imagination.
Durant, a top-three player of this generation, elected to join a team that was five points away from immortality. You want to talk about how this affects the landscape of the league, and to that, I ask, what landscape? We might’ve spoken too soon — monoculture might not be dead after all.
Golden State can now boast the MVPs of the past three NBA seasons in their starting lineup. The Warriors are the third team to add a former MVP in the offseason after finishing with the season’s best record, according to Elias Sports Bureau. But history doesn’t come close to explaining the absence of precedence of this move. The other two teams were the Cleveland Cavaliers after trading for Shaquille O’Neal in 2009, and the Boston Celtics, who acquired Bill Walton from the Clippers in 1985. Shaq was entering the season at the age of 37; Walton was about to turn 33. In both cases, they would retire only one season later. Durant will be 28 when the upcoming season starts, fully in his prime, playing within a system that caters to his strengths. The Warriors aren’t paying for past glories, they’re investing in the bounty of what’s still to come.
There are about three more months of this — three more months of superimposing Durant onto Harrison Barnes’s wide-open corner 3s; superimposing Durant onto Draymond Green’s forays to the rim from the top of the arc as a 5; hell, superimposing Durant onto Steph Curry’s interstellar heaves. He is one of the most omnipotent scorers in the history of the game, and he’ll get to show the full extent of his ability as a shapeshifter within the Warriors’ positionless, mazelike offense.
Over the summer, we’ll pass the time by reducing Dubs players to their core concepts; we’ll build Voltron out of Legos. The first stage of grief and elation in the NBA is wild, pie-in-the-sky prognostication. It’s fun, and it’s human. Superteam dreams are seen in black-and-white. Why delve into the problematics of scheme when we have months to color in the doomsday of competitive balance?
That is the cycle of hype we’ve perpetuated since LeBron James brought forth the superfriends era in 2010. Six years later, we’re smart enough to know that these transitions aren’t seamless — having James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh cohabitate didn’t produce alley-oops on every possession; Steve Nash and Dwight Howard never found magic in the two-man game; it turned out that the LeBron–Kevin Love pick-and-roll wasn’t as unguardable as it had sounded in our heads. But past disappointments won’t change the way we process these types of shifts in power; after all, of those three superteam creations, both the Heat and Cavaliers have won championships.
Superteams don’t have to strive for perfection, just a greater margin for error than what a typical team should be afforded. Again, the Warriors were five points away from winning the 2015–16 NBA championship. Curry and Klay Thompson, two of the best shooters in history, were clanking wide-open looks with under five minutes left. Curry didn’t have the strength nor the burst to create off the dribble, and didn’t have the legs to finish when he did get enough separation. It was stunning to watch a team seemingly built on logarithms break down in such a fashion. The Warriors dominated much of the season through arithmetic sequences that only they were capable of constructing — the math problem has a simple answer (3 is better than 2, unless you get enough 1s), but in the NBA, finding an answer isn’t the same as a solution. They just happened to face a team with the ultimate codebreaker.
Add Durant to this equation? All of organized sports is probability analysis, but with Durant, the Warriors can posit a trick question to the rest of the league: What are the odds of being able to contain three of the best shooters alive at any given moment? The answer isn’t necessarily “You can’t,” it’s “Wait, how did we get here?”
This is Golden State’s moment of undeniability. With Kevin Durant, the Warriors have undergone a transformation of intent, like when Uber went from a circumvention of an antiquated taxi system to a harbinger of an unthinkable, driverless transportation portal. They aren’t here just to change the way the game will look, they’re here to take everything. We had a few weeks to laugh at Joe Lacob’s “light-years ahead” proclamation after the team’s postseason collapse. With one move, the discourse has shifted once again. The myth has become the monolith.