Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors. The best player who did not participate in the NBA Finals joined the team that narrowly lost and produced the best regular season record of all-time. It’s a shock. It’s a heel turn. It gutted the Warriors’ next best competition in the West.
Top NBA stars have changed teams – LeBron to Miami/Cleveland, Shaq to Los Angeles – and had a decisive impact. But, there’s little precedent for that great a player signing with that great an extant team in his prime. The best parallel may be Moses Malone joining the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982.
Malone, who had just turned 27, was at his apex. He had averaged 31.1 points per game and was in the midst of a run leading the NBA in rebounding six times in seven years. He was the reigning NBA MVP and had led the league in both minutes played (42.0) and PER (26.8). He was an absolute monster and one of the NBA’s great all-time centers.
The 76ers, led by Julius Erving, were not the Warriors. But, they went 58-24 in 1981-82. They beat the Celtics in a 7-game Eastern Conference Finals. They lost 4-2 to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Malone was a restricted free agent that summer. The Sixers tried to strong arm the Rockets with an unmatchable six-year $13.2 million contract with clauses Houston could not meet. A resulting wrangle saw the Rockets trade Malone to Philadelphia, for Caldwell Jones and Cleveland’s 1983 first-round pick, which came from a laughably bad trade six years earlier.
How did that move fare? The first year was brilliant. The 76ers went 65-17 in the regular season and 12-1 in the playoffs, sweeping the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Malone led the league in PER again. He was MVP of both the regular season and the NBA Finals.
Alas, no dynasty materialized afterward. Malone was hampered by injuries, then was traded to the Bullets in 1986. Erving was at the back end of his career. Barkley, drafted in 1984, took a couple seasons and a number of shed pounds to make a top-level impact. The 76ers were fated to not quite be as good as the Celtics or Pistons in the East.
The Warriors signing Durant, of course, could have a far brighter outlook. Factoring in how the league has changed, Durant may be more dominant than Malone. Curry is better than Erving was. Thompson and Green are better than the 76ers’ third and fourth best players. All four will be 28 or younger entering the 2016-17 season.
Golden State will also face far less competition. Cleveland should be formidable with LeBron. But, he turns 32 next season. He will be entering his 14th season in the NBA. It’s not clear how much longer he will be able to carry a team.
As we mentioned before, this move ended the Thunder. The Spurs are on the downswing. The Lakers…just gave $64 million to Timofey Mosgov. It’s not clear what team will mount a challenge.
In short, signing Durant should be a spectacular move for the Warriors (and people who earn a living writing about NBA storylines).