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The Winners and Losers of Kevin Durant–to–Golden State

The Warriors won, obviously. The Based God, too. But who lost?

Getty Images
Getty Images

This morning, Kevin Durant made a stunning decision to leave Oklahoma City for the greener pastures of Silicon Valley, agreeing to terms with Golden State on a two-year deal expected to be worth $54.3 million. Next season he’ll suit up alongside the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green, creating a superteam the likes of which we’ve never seen. So who are the big winners and the wounded losers? The Ringer staff weighs in:

Winner: Jerry West

There’s no way to know what ultimately made the difference in KD’s decision to leave, but OKC fans had to be having cold sweats when they heard that Jerry West made a personal call to Durant two days ago. West won only one title as a player, but he won six championships as an executive with the Lakers, during which time he constructed the NBA’s last pre-Heatles super-team when he convinced Shaq to come to L.A. As a special adviser to the Warriors, he deserves a ton of credit for their title, since he was apparently instrumental in convincing them not to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014. The Logo is the league’s wisest sage and its ultimate closer, and who knows how many rings he’s going to add to his collection before it’s all over? Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach better watch out. — Jonathan Tjarks

Winner: Russell Westbrook

Good morning. In less than four months, Golden State will be launching the most explosive offensive attack in the history of mankind.

Mankind — that word should have new meaning for us today.

We can’t be consumed by our petty rivalries anymore. We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July and we will once again be cheering for freedom — not from tyranny, Pat Riley, or oppression, but from smug-ass Silicon Valley execs like Joe Lacob.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when fans from around the league declared in one voice:

Today, we celebrate Russell Westbrook’s Independence Day! — Jason Gallagher

Winner: LeBron James

Has the NBA ever seen a greater stack of house money than the one James will enter the 2016–17 season with? Of course, that stack was already pretty high before Durant began taking Hamptons house calls: LeBron fulfilled his hoops manifest destiny by bringing a championship to Cleveland. He clicked “MOVE TO TRASH -> EMPTY TRASH” on your Steph-as-league-alpha narrative. He reserved a permanent suite at the NBA pantheon’s Top-Three Hotel. But today? He just one-upped all of that. July 4, 2016, marks the most impressive feat of LeBron James’s career: Dude conquered the world and became an underdog — at the same damn time.— Sam Donsky

Winner: Pacific Standard Time

My sleep schedule is so screwed. I’m too old to be staying up till 1 a.m. three or four nights a week. And so many #latenightchickens. — Joe House

Winner: Lil B the Based God

Loser: Steph Curry

Remember April? The basketball world was simple: The Warriors were the best team, and we were in the second year of the Stephen Curry Epoch. All of Curry’s successes from the past two seasons — his two MVP awards, his family’s ascending fame, his pregame shots from the tunnel — felt inevitable. There was no way to stop the Curry train — climb aboard or get out of the way. Or create a wet spot, force Curry to slip, and tilt the NBA axis.

Donatas Motiejunas’s butt sweat didn’t preordain Kevin Durant’s joining the Warriors, but we can’t rule out its effect on Steph’s timeline. Since then: He missed two weeks of the playoffs; his new shoes were released and quickly surpassed Crying Jordan as the dominant meme; he fouled out for the first time since 2013 and was ejected after a mouthguard-flinging incident; he and the Warriors lost the NBA championship, becoming the only team to squander a 3–1 lead in the Finals. If Golden State had to turn to another superstar to reclaim the NBA throne, Curry’s claim as MVP and face of the league is suddenly in question. April seems so long ago. — Juliet Litman

Loser: Competitive Balance

I’ll be that guy.

Kevin Durant is joining a team that broke the regular-season wins record and nearly repeated as champions. Listen here: Never — ever, ever — in all of NBA history has a player this good been lured away to a team this good. Two league MVPs, at the height of their respective powers, joined together to bury us all beneath an avalanche of 18-foot-plus jumpers. This is the kind of free-agency coup that you try on 2K MyLeague mode with recommendations from the board turned off and negotiations set on the lowest possible difficulty — and it still only works half of the time. It’s the kind of coup that David Stern would probably block if he were still around to get booed.

With this move, the Warriors have gone from a lovable group of ragtag upstarts to the “Lineup of Death” to, now, the literal Death Star in just under two years. It was fun, you guys, but I think it’s time we start a new league and not tell Golden State about it. — Micah Peters

Loser: Danny Ainge

On Saturday, Celtics GM Danny Ainge was looking suspiciously like a wizard. He trekked out to the Hamptons with Al Horford, Tom Brady, and a pair of KD thigh-highs, his sack of second-round picks slung over his shoulder. Kevin Durant was squarely in his sights. But things look starker now that the Durant Beach House has emptied out. Brady isn’t great in meetings, and Sports Authority won’t give Ainge a full refund on lightly worn sneakers. There’s nothing wrong with taking a big swing, and Ainge isn’t leaving the weekend empty-handed. But the Gobi Desert levels of thirst on display suggest the Celtics are still climbing uphill. Good thing Danny brought his sneakers. —Sam Schube

Loser: The Dallas Mavericks

Not because Durant didn’t pick the Mavs (despite Mark Cuban’s best efforts!), but because Golden State will now have to renounce their rights to Harrison Barnes, allowing Dallas to go full steam ahead with its plans to offer him a max four-year, $95 million contract — which would make Barnes the highest-paid player in Mavs history. Add a starting center whom I like (Dirk + Andrew Bogut + Mavs video team = !!!) but plays 20 games a year, and it looks like the Dallas vultures are destined for another first-round exit. The post-Dirk era is indeed dark and full of missed jumpers.— Gallagher

Loser: The NBA Free-Agency Binge

Just days ago, we were living in a new, absurdist NBA reality. Jon Leuer and Allen Crabbe had become $10 million–plus-a-year players. Ryan Anderson — who has averaged 13 points and fewer than six rebounds per game in eight seasons — will make $20 million a year for the next four years. Mike Conley, who has never made an All-Star team, is the highest-paid player in the league. NBA observers were agog, rationalizing the exploding cap ruptured by a preposterously profitable TV contract and making hasty comparisons to the relatively paltry deals for athletes in other sports. There were billions on the board, and given that the league declined to smooth the cap over a number of years, many millions trickled down to more than 50 free agents over the past 72 hours. It felt like a moment of tumult — a chance to take stock of the shifting mores in a sport that has been trending up, up, up in the consciousness in the past decade.

It all seems silly now. The New Knicks? Not a thing. Some intriguing moves by the Celtics? Nonsense. The Clippers brought back their core? Jump off a bridge. Tim Duncan might retire? Never heard of him. Today, the league is defined by the singular expectations — win or die — on the Golden State Warriors. And perhaps some LeBron underdoggery. Everything else is just information. —Sean Fennessey