While it may not have been a literal explosion, Kevin Durant’s decision to sign a two-year $54.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors was the equivalent of a fireworks show for basketball fans around the U.S. July 4.
Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable player, chose to part ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that was eliminated from the 2016 playoffs after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
“I am at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth,” Durant wrote on The Players Tribune July 4.
The signing was exciting news to Warriors fans who, just two weeks earlier on June 19, watched their team become the the first in NBA history to lose in the Finals after taking a 3-1 series lead.
By adding Durant, the Warriors became clear-cut favorites to win the NBA championship in the 2016-2017 season, with Vegasinsider.com giving them 5-7 odds to do so. Golden State won a record 73 regular season games in 2015-2016 without Durant, so there is no telling how good they can be with him.
While the Bay Area rejoiced, fans of other teams across the league, specifically of the Oklahoma City Thunder, were enraged. Similar to what happened when LeBron chose to leave Cleveland six years ago, videos of Thunder fans burning Durant’s jersey emerged on the internet.
“I’m viewing it as the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar,” ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith said July 4. “Three different times he was 48 minutes removed from getting to the NBA finals by winning the Western Conference. Three times he failed, particularly in game 6, and you depart for the team that beat you when you’re on the cusp of getting to the finals yourself. Or ultimately winning a championship for the franchise that you’ve been with since you’ve come into the NBA. I think it’s incredibly weak.”
Smith was not alone in expressing his distaste in Durant’s decision. NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley also weighed in with his opinion.
“Just disappointed with the fact that he weakened another team and he’s going to kind of gravy train on a terrific Warriors team. Just dissapointed from a competitive standpoint,” Barkley said July 6.
With Durant gone, the Thunder will likely look to move their star point guard Russell Westbrook in a trade this coming season. Westbrook, who many consider to be a top-five player in the league, is in the final year of his contract with OKC and can be a valuable trade commodity for a Thunder team that may need to consider rebuilding.
While the Warriors starting lineup, which now includes 2-time reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry, former MVP Kevin Durant, three-point marksman Klay Thompson and triple-double machine Draymond Green, looks good on paper, there is no guarantee the Warriors will win it all in 2017. In order to make room for Durant’s contract, Golden State had to trade center Andrew Bogut and release forward Harrison Barnes, both of whom were key front court role players for the Warriors in their back-to-back finals appearances. In response to the loss of Barnes and Bogut, the Warriors signed forward David West to a veteran’s minimum contract of 1 year $1.29 million in an attempt to regain depth in their front court.
Despite Durant’s move to Golden State being the biggest story from the NBA this week, several other notable free agents were signed.
Perhaps the the biggest surprise in free agency was the Memphis Grizzlies decision to sign point guard Mike Conley to a five-year, $153 million contract, which is the largest in NBA history. Despite being the best available point guard on the free agent market, Conley, in his nine-year career, has never been an all-star.
Dwight Howard decided to sign with his hometown Atlanta Hawks for a three-year, $70.5 million contract July 1.
While the Hawks gained a one big-man in Howard, they lost another as Al Horford chose to sign a four-year, $113 million contract with the Boston Celtics July 2. The addition of Horford will likely bolster a Celtics’ roster that was devoid of a star big-man since the departure of Kevin Garnett in 2013.
Staying on the topic of big-men, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki decided to resign with the team he’s played with for the past 18 seasons by signing a two-year, $40 million contract July 5. Veteran Pau Gasol departed the Chicago Bulls and signed with the San Antonio Spurs for a two-year, $30 million contract July 4.