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Realistic Expectations for Golden State Entering 2016-2017

Kevin Durant
For years, there has been speculation on where Kevin Durant would land when he was set to become a free agent this summer. There was the popular storyline of him heading to flashy markets like New York or Los Angeles, or maybe even heading home to Washington. Though, as this offseason began, and KD was really a free agent it seemed unlikely he was leaving Oklahoma City. The Thunder had just been within a hair of their second NBA Finals berth and had recently acquired Victor Oladipo, giving them even more scoring punch next to Russell Westbrook and Durant, likely the best 1-2 combo in the league. The Clippers, Heat, Celtics, Spurs, Warriors and Thunder all came calling for the highest prize and rumors swirled. He was "blown away" by the Clippers presentation, talked to Tom Brady and the Celtics, was intrigued by Pat Riley and the Heat and so on. But, at the end of the day, Durant decided to head West to Golden State. Now, probably the second-best all-around player in the NBA will team up with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on a team that just won 73 games and was painfully close to winning it all. The obvious expectations are NBA titles and rings and more rings, but what can we realistically expect from the team in the first year of a crazy experiment?

The thing that is so impressive about Golden State in an NBA defined by isolation and individual stars is the team basketball they play. No NBA team spaces the floor as well, no NBA team is as unselfish, and no NBA team is as exciting as they are. Sure, it helps when they have two of the best shooters in modern NBA history (Curry and Thompson) but it also comes from how the front office has constructed the team. They have a group of high quality players that play solely for the team and fit in to specific roles masterfully. They have their stars in Green, Curry and Thompson, but they also have a core around them that works wonderfully. Andre Igoudala is their premier defender and disciplined veteran, Shaun Livingston and Leonardo Barbosa are their hustle guys off the bench, Festus Ezeli is the muscle, and Maresse Speights and Andrew Bogut were their mobile bigs (Bogut has since been traded, and Speights is still a free agent). The team is built wonderfully, and fits perfectly, and displays incredible balance. So, how does Kevin Durant, a star who demands the ball, fit in? Durant is deadly in isolation opportunities, because their isn't a whole lot of NBA defenders that can defend a guy with his length and athleticism. But, he has shown that he can excel in off-the-ball offense if necessary. Durant is a good spot-up shooter and Golden State moves the ball so well he will be able to get the ball in the right areas. Another huge benefit to both sides is that Durant is not a selfish player that will absolutely need the ball. In OKC, he was perfectly fine letting Russell Westbrook run the show (sometimes even to a fault) when needed, and he shouldn't be frustrated by a lack of touches, especially when the Warriors are beating down opponents.

The big question I have about the Warriors with Kevin Durant has nothing to do with what is new around him. It isn't about how they will share the ball, or how he'll fit in. It is the problem that beat them down in the NBA Finals: their lack of size. The Warriors have revolutionized the NBA with their small-ball lineup. Teams have struggled to defend their free-wheeling attack, especially when it goes up-tempo. That changed this summer, when the Cavaliers found a way to pound the ball down low against Golden State, which had been the gameplan of dozens of teams, but never executed correctly. Sure, it helps when LeBron James is playing basketball at a level that isn't human, but Cleveland also dominated the boards and paint in their final three wins. James, Tristian Thompson and even Kevin Love were able to get offensive opportunities down low against the Warriors, while also shutting them down on the opposite end. When Curry and Thompson went cold, the Warriors lack of a down low game killed them and they weren't able to keep up with the flaming hot LeBron or Kyrie Irving. Kevin Durant is going to make the Warriors even more dangerous and more versatile, but he isn't a big. He has great size, but he won't be posting up against legitimate NBA big men nor really defending the paint. Will NBA teams be able to take advantage of the Warriors' lack of size down low? Most of the time it probably won't matter. Golden State will be draining too many threes or dominating too much in transition. However, in the NBA Finals or Western Conference Finals if they can't get that consistent offensive output, will it be become their Achilles Heel again?

The Western Conference is no breeze either. San Antonio plays fantastic basketball, the Blazers are superbly underrated, the Grizzlies play hard and gritty and while they have been experts at choking away games over the past few years, the Clippers have a wonderful core and strong bench. Talent-wise, there probably isn't a team in the Conference that can match up with the Warriors, not even close. But, after a long and hard season in the strenuous Playoffs, can they survive. Remember, the Thunder were dominating Golden State and set to become Western Conference champs for much of the series before the Warriors turned it on. There isn't any team that matches this past year's Thunder in 2016-2017, but the road will not be a cakewalk. The Warriors are going to be the hunted, and the whole league will be trying to take them down, particularly a guy by the name of LeBron James.

Don't confuse it; this is the best team in the NBA on paper, and it isn't close. They have four of the Top 15 players in the league, and may have the most offensive starpower the league has ever seen assembled on one squad. There will be growing pains along the way, and questions. Yet, unless there is some injury, or a string of them, they are my pick to win it all. I'm not exactly going out on a limb here, they should be the far away favorite. But, I also don't think we should automatically crown them champions and expect them to win 75-plus games. The NBA has some incredible talent, and their win total very well might regress is a result of some new faces. I expect a very healthy 65-70 wins, but a duel with Cleveland in the Finals could very well change the legacy of a team that has transformed the league.

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