Barring a collapse unlike anything we’ve ever seen in NBA history, Kevin Durant will win a title with the Warriors in the coming days. Depending on how well they play in Game 4, he could even help Golden State solidify its case as the best single season team of all-time if they can run the table.
This summer, there will be plenty of time to argue about Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City and join a team coming off back-to-back NBA Finals appearances. Say what you want about his choice, but his performance this season, particularly in the playoffs, is exactly why so many teams were willing to do so much to get him. He can make a good team great. He can make an great team arguably the best ever.
With that hindsight, it’s even more obvious now than before the Wizards had the right idea going all-in on KD2DC. When it comes to adding a player like Durant, you don’t worry about the chemistry, you don’t worry about the cap sheet, you don’t worry about the hot takes, you don’t worry about the stupid blog posts, you just go get him. All the other drama is worth it to get someone that good.
It’s also more clear than ever that the Wizards botched whatever chance they may have had at recruiting him by not putting a better team together. Washington bet that a mix of young talent, cap space, and a chance to play at home would be the right pitch.
Unfortunately, the 2016 cap spike gave nearly every team in the league the financial flexibility to sign Durant. As a result, the true bargaining power was held by teams who could offer great basketball situations, rather than teams with money to spend. Don’t forget, the Warriors didn’t even have max cap space when they met with Durant. They had to let Harrison Barnes walk and trade away Andrew Bogut in order to clear the necessary room. The Spurs and Clippers, who both got meetings with Durant last summer, also would have needed to shuffle things around to make things work.
The cap spike undercut the Wizards’ financial advantage, and it weakened them right at the time when they needed to flex their muscle. While other teams strengthening their roster, the Wizards had to balance making improvements while limiting themselves to players who were willing to take short-term deals. As it turns out, the players willing to take short-term deals are usually near the end of their career and don’t offer much value.
Then again, maybe we need zoom out a little further to get to heart of what went wrong. Let’s not forget Washington had a chance to draft the three Warriors who established the team’s foundation and put the team in a position to recruit Durant. They also missed out on chances to improve their coaching situation until it was already too late.
What’s passed has passed, and it’s silly to remain bitter about opportunities the Wizards missed to strengthen what has proven to be a very solid team. But when we write the story of this Wizards’ era, let’s make sure we distinguish that going after Kevin Durant wasn’t the problem, it’s that they went about it the wrong way.