Thursday, July 14, 2016

Playing the Heel

The Golden State Warriors' fall from grace was rapid: from the NBA's feel-good story as a team of destiny to chokers in the NBA Finals. Yet it seemed that before we could even wrap our collective heads around their dramatic tumble, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. The rich get obscenely richer?

Mark Cuban, Shark Tank denizen, Mavericks' owner and never one to shy away from controversy, is at it again. Cuban had an interesting take on Durant going to the Warriors:
"Just like when LeBron James went to Miami, I loved that there was a villain. They become the villain. I'm fine with that. Everybody's going to root for them to lose."
But could it be that the Warriors could go from everyone's favorite team outside of Cleveland to the NBA's version of Steinbrenner's Yankees?

It's doubtful that league fans can muster the same level of hatred they felt the day that LeBron made his "decision". From that point forward, we all had two favorites: your NBA team and whoever was playing the Heat. That the Heat appeared in the NBA Finals all four years that James was in Miami was made somewhat palatable by the fact that they lost twice in those finals.

Have the Warriors squandered their good will?  Absolutely. It was very easy to root for the Warriors' Wild West Show and their band of merry men. But when fans put all their eggs (and energy) into one basket and then get left holding said basket in epic fashion, that's gonna leave a mark. Besides, once you've won 73 games and have nothing to show for it, people will be wary to jump back on that bandwagon.

As for Durant, it surprised many that he'd adopt an "I'm taking my ball and going home" attitude by signing with the ready-made champions. A title won with Golden State now proves nothing. Unfortunately for Durant, he might have made it more difficult to win.

The Warriors had remarkable team chemistry. Like any science major can tell you, though, when you start switching out chemicals, the results may not only be different, but volatile. Starting center Andrew Bogut, whose Finals' absence was often cited as one of the reasons that the Warriors lost, was traded to Cuban's Mavericks to make cap room. Harrison Barnes, a member of the Dubs' so-called "Death Lineup" and a key ingredient to their success, was also left out and coincidentally signed with the Mavs.

Regardless of whether the Warriors turn out to be NBA villains or simply last season's news, it won't be the same in Golden State. Steph Curry will still excite. Klay Thompson will still launch from everywhere and Draymond Green will still drive people nuts. But winning games won't be news any longer.