One of the benefits of growing up as a basketball fan in the era of the well-publicized “superteam” would seemingly be, if our antennas are pointed in the right direction, the ability to discuss reasonable expectations for the superteams prior to their ever playing a game.
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(I realize that, for those of us that have actually had to use antennas on the top of our TVs, the idea of a “superteam” isn’t anything new. And that Magic, Bird, Dr. J and to a lesser extent MJ and Hakeem and Kobe and Shaq played with their fair share of Hall of Famers. Still, the attention shown toward the most recent batches pales in comparison to, say, “ooh, the Celtics are going to start Kevin McHale over Cedric Maxwell this year.”)
Since the 2003-04 Lakers’ attempts to win with Karl Malone and Gary Payton failed, and in the years since we watched LeBron James’ first 185 games with the Miami Heat hardly go according to plan, we’ve been afforded the ability to concurrently learn from and derive more and more talking points from the creation of these sorts of planned out super squads.
Hopefully, with the Golden State Warriors adding Kevin Durant this summer, we’ve taken enough in to handle this the right way. Klay Thompson, coming off of an NBA season followed by an Olympic turn working with two different superteams, in anticipation of starting up with yet another with the Warriors, is already a little irascible when it comes to discussing a GSW squad that is five weeks away from its first practice. From GQ:
Are you tired of answering questions about next season yet?
Yes. Yes. I just want to go out there and prove to people how great we can be. Every day at the media session here I have to answer questions about it. ‘Oh, how’s the chemistry between you three.’ Everyday… But it’s part of the territory. I just give some automated answers. I can be pretty robotic. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the franchise now, and deservedly so. It’s part of our job, we have to answer those questions.
This comes on the heels of what Kevin Durant – where do you want to go with this – admitted (?) that he was aware that some resentment awaited him prior to his decision to commit with the Warriors, and that the relative seclusion of the Game/Day Off on a Yacht and Team Function/Game/ Day Off on a Yacht and Team Function/Game-schedule of the Olympics helped him find solace in a summer that could have been spent ignoring his @ replies.
“It was therapy for me after making a big change in my life,” Durant told The Vertical in the bowels of Carioca Arena 1 about an hour after scoring 30 points in Sunday’s 96-66 victory. “It made my life easier … I knew [a backlash] was coming. It was definitely different for me, but to come here in an environment where people accepted me and didn’t care about anything except being my buddy, that’s what I needed.”
Of course Durant knew there would be a backlash. Backlash followed Gary Payton when he left the Milwaukee Bucks to join the Lakers at age 35 in 2003, backlash has been in place about pro millionaires sticking with Team USA since Feb. 1991, and we all were around for LeBron James’ infamous Decision in 2010, so of course there was going to be some storm front to prepare for in Durant’s case.
Leaving the only franchise he’s ever known. Leaving for the team that dumped his ex-teammates from the playoffs the year prior, the Warrior squad that won 73 games. In 2010 LeBron James traded in Anthony Parker and an aging Antawn Jamison for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, an understandable move in any realm, and it took him years to mollify the just-as understandable outrage that followed the way in which he handled his departure.
Kevin Durant saw all this. Now we’re at the point, as Klay Thompson is, where we have to remind ourselves of how to keep things in check as we anticipate what comes next.
(Coming from the guy that picked the 2010-11 Heat to win 70 games.)
The Shaq and Kobe-“led” Laker team that Payton joined in 2003 needed a desperation shot to steal the drive out of the Spurs in the second round and a series of opponent injuries in the third round in order to make it to the Finals, where they were whupped by the Detroit Pistons. LeBron’s Heat lost the Finals in 2011 and looked just as clueless deep into the 2012 Eastern Conference finals entering Game 6 when James got it all together in time to save nearly two seasons’ worth of figuring it out.
The 2010-11 Heat started 9-8 and had its own mini-controversy just a month into things. James’ 2014-15 Cavaliers, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love afoot, were 19-20 in the second week of January that season.
Klay Thompson’s 2016 Team USA outfit were but a week removed from only beating a Tony Parker-less France squad by three points as it entered the gold medal game against Serbia on Sunday. That outfit was a superteam put together with some regard for makeup and shape, but with a greater insistence on filling the seats on the team bus with stars and those that wear a certain brand of shoe. In USA Basketball’s defense, a series of defections made finding those stars a little trickier, as the clocked ticked down toward the first flight to Rio.
Still, relative to expectation, the team struggled in its successful quest to defend its gold medal, and took in heaps of criticism along the (short) way.
Thompson is going out of the frying pan and into the fire, and the quicker we understand this while not pointing to Team USA’s yacht or the fact that he’ll line up alongside the last three NBA MVP award-winners in Golden State, the better off we’ll be as observers.
The Warriors will miss Andrew Bogut, even though they often played better with him off the floor. Replacement of sorts Zaza Pachulia is a fine save at center, but he’s a better pick-up for a team already featuring Bogut than a one that just had to waive goodbye to him. The squad will miss Festus Ezeli, even with the coaching staff’s repeated frustrations with him, and they’ll miss Marreese Speights’ ability to punch up an already-established lead with a basket at the end of the first quarter, and a couple more at the outset of the second quarter.
Golden State isn’t perfect. They didn’t need scoring, and they failed to address the franchise’s two strongest concerns (the eventual replacements for the aging Bogut and especially Andre Iguodala) prior to signing the NBA’s third-leading scorer. Such a burden.
What is worth anticipating is what we’ve already seen.
Overpassing. A fear of stepping on toes. People, now teammate, pleasing. Slow starts or, heaven forbid, needing an entire year (or nearly two, as it was with LeBron) to learn how to play with high usage, franchise-caliber teammates.
Kevin Durant working alongside the all-world tornado that is Russell Westbrook, or on three different Team USA outfits, won’t prepare him for this.
Klay Thompson, working alongside Stephen Curry or even shot-gobblers like Speights and/or Leandro Barbosa in the second quarter of games with Curry on the bench, clearly won’t prepare him for this.
Slow start or not, that won’t stop the takes. They were even there in Rio, in a column we won’t link to, assigning value to Thompson’s early struggles from behind the three-point line in Olympic pool play with the expectation that he won’t be a good fit alongside Durant and Curry in Golden State. Those hit days before Thompson helped save Team USA’s tail against France and before his second quarter splurge helped erase an early Argentinean advantage in the quarterfinals.
That hot take (we’re sure there were others, especially on NBA Twitter), most importantly, came two and a half months removed from Thompson’s first game alongside Durant with the Warriors. And 10 months before Golden State’s expected trip to the 2017 NBA Finals.
A Finals where they could trip and fall, as LeBron did in 2011. Teams need time, no matter how super. Team USA, in spite of that 30 point win over Serbia on Sunday, needed weeks beyond what it was given in order to even approximate what it could have turned into, chemistry-wise. This isn’t a video game.
Here’s hoping we remember that with Klay and Co., as late October slowly approaches.
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