Since Kevin Durant made his monumental, league shaking decision to join the Golden State Warriors, so much has been said, written, and yelled about his legacy, parity, competitiveness, and the long-term effects of moves like his. There’s no reason for me to rehash those arguments or the endless rebuttals.
Instead, let’s talk about baseball, just for a second, for some perspective about basketball.
In the winter of 2010-2011, I had my head down in an essay I was writing for a poetry class in college. The paper was due the next day and my efforts to turn a 20 line poem into a 6 page paper had been fairly fruitless thus far. I chipped away and chipped away, finding tiny little pieces of poem to turn into paragraphs, but at the same time, I was distracted.
Cliff Lee’s free agency decision appeared to be pending, coming down to a host of teams. In his short time with the Phillies two years prior, I’d loved Lee, like many other Phillies fans, though the amount of money being mentioned with his name seemed too rich for the Phils’ blood. Yet as the night wore on and my paper inched longer and longer, reports of a “mystery team” being in the running for Lee began to appear. Slowly as details unfolded, my attention turned a bit more to Twitter than Microsoft Word.
When news actually broke and Lee agreed to sign with the Phillies, I was ecstatic. Dreams of the Hamels-Halladay-Lee-Oswalt rotation danced through my thoughts as I danced through my room. I turned to a sign I had hanging on my wall. It read “Philadelphia Phillies, World Champions, 1980 and 2008”. I grabbed a Sharpie and added “2011” to the bottom of the sign that night.
Fast forward 10 months to October and the night of my 21st birthday, nearly ruined by that Phillies team being bounced in the first round of the playoffs after a 100 win season.
Baseball isn’t basketball. There’s more players, more luck, more chances, and more variance, but we play the games for a reason. The Warriors won more games than any team in the history of the NBA this year, yet will not be collecting rings at their home opener next season. Durant and Russell Westbrook both had playoff ending injuries in the last half decade, derailing possibly title chances. Super teams have failed in the past (looking at you, Los Angeles Lakers…in 2004 and 2012).
The most difficult thing, of course, about beating the Warriors is the possibilities for offensive potency with their scariest lineup. The Warriors 5-man unit of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Barnes-Green has been the best lineup in the NBA for the past two years. It’s been Steve Kerr’s trump card and nuclear option. In need of a run for a comeback or to pull away, the so-called Death Lineup has been the ace in the hole.
Now, replace Barnes with Durant, and the Death Lineup becomes the MEGA DEATH LINEUP or some kind of Mass Extinction Event.
Can anyone in the NBA even try to match-up with those five? Who can come the closest?
Yes, teams will try to power this lineup, rather than match with it. For example the Thunder sent Adams and Ibaka to the glass and almost pounded out an upset in the Western Conference Finals this past year. The Spurs, with LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, will try. Others like the Pistons (Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond) may have a prayer too, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s only look at lineups attempting to conform to the Warriors small ball pace, from least capability to the best chance in the league of slowing down the Dubs’ destruction.
TJ McConnell-Gerald Henderson-Robert Covington-Ben Simmons-Nerlens Noel
Don’t you dare tell me I’m kidding.
Greivis Vasquez-Malcolm Brogdon-Khris Middleton-Giannis Antetokounmpo-John Henson
Can I rant about the Milwaukee Bucks for a moment?
For some reason, to many NBA fans and media members, this Bucks team represents a future contender and at present, one of the most fun teams in the NBA to watch. Some think their upward progression could start as early as this year. I can understand an infatuation with The Greek Freak and, to a lesser extent, the other pieces on this roster.
On the other hand, this Bucks team will not make the playoffs this season. Nor will they ever have a chance to be serious contenders, as presently constructed. In today’s NBA, a minimum of two All-Star caliber players is required to compete at the highest level. Giannis has yet to make an All-Star game, yet is a good bet to do so in the future. Reaching heights higher than that may not be in the cards for the young Greek. Though he’s incredibly still only 21 years old, his limitations may restrict him from ever reaching an All-NBA or franchise building block level. He can’t shoot and while his attempts to play point guard are fun, I doubt the sustainability of that experiment.
Aside from Antetokoumpo, nothing on this Bucks roster is overly exciting. Middleton is a nice player. An NBA starter with a chance to grow. Parker is entering his second full season, two years removed from an ACL tear. Yet last year, every knock on him coming into the draft bubbled back to the surface. He’s more of a tweener than a player able to switch positions. His limited athleticism and shooting deficiencies contradict each other. They just drafted Thon Maker at 10th overall, when he may well have been available at 40th, thanks to the questions about his age. Michael Carter-Williams is a mess. Greg Monroe can’t defend a wax figure and there’s no minutes left for John Henson.
Where is the next step for this team? Assume Giannis is a star and Middleton and Parker are reliable starters. Where does the second or third star come from? How do they find the talent to truly be relevant? Not in the draft, where they’ll be choosing in the late lottery, unless they change course. Not in free agency, unless global warming is coming to Wisconsin quicker than we thought.
The Bucks jumped directly from one season in the cellar to half a decade or more in the dreaded middle. It will take a major move to rock them either up or down from that space.
Elfrid Payton-Evan Fournier-Mario Hezonja-Aaron Gordon-(Serge Ibaka/Bismack Biyombo)
Speaking of teams who don’t have any idea what they are doing, the Orlando Magic!
I don’t know why they gave Bismack Biyombo $68 million to be a backup center. I don’t know why they gave Jeff Green $15 million to do…who knows what. I don’t know what they plan to do with Nikola Vucevic. And I definitely don’t know why they think Aaron Gordon is a small forward (when he is clearly best suited at the four spot).
Orlando solved their “too many guards” problem by immediately turning it into a “too many big men” problem. It’s like MAGIC!
But for this exercise, it can make sense. It’s like tasking someone with building a small birdhouse, then they went to Home Depot and spent $85 million. Sure, they have the tools and suppliers for the birdhouse, but they have a lot of other problems now.
Kyle Lowry-Terrence Ross-DeMar DeRozan-DeMarre Carroll-Jason Thompson
Of the players in this Raptors’ lineup, only Carroll is really a plus defender. The rest are capable of guarding the position their listed at here, yet would struggle covering the Warrior they’d match with.
Cam Payne-Russell Westbrook-Victor Oladipo-Andre Roberson-Steven Adams
Durant’s former team oddly looks like one of the best suited to cover his new squad. That’s mostly due to Westbrook and Oladipo’s collective ability to light their hair on fire and defend everything in site. If you are looking for guards who can help and recover and rotate on defense, both Russell and Victor are on the short list for best in the league.
This lineup comes with a squeaky fifth wheel though. I chose to make it super small, with Roberson at the 4 and an extra point guard in Payne. That probably leads to a mess on the offensive end.
OKC, like many teams, is in the market for a stretch four or athletic three. I’m not sure where they find one at this point in free agency. In house, I’d be curious what they get out of former first round pick Josh Huestis this season. He could give them great minutes as a small ball four this year, if he’s ready for the big show after a year in the D-League.
The craziest thing? They are the only Western Conference team on this list.
Avery Bradley-Marcus Smart-Jaylen Brown-Jae Crowder-Al Horford
Crowder is the key here. He’s become the most versatile, non-Draymond Green defender in the NBA. His ability to slide to the power forward spot and continue to rebound and defend allows Brad Stevens a lot of freedom. That extends even further when Marcus Smart, a 6-4 college point guard, can defend small forwards. Andre Iguodala probably doesn’t give Smart too much trouble, but Boston’s bigger worries are Horford keeping Green out of the paint and trusting a rookie like Brown. Isaiah Thomas would give this unit a much better chance on offense, but would struggle to contain Curry.
Kyrie Irving-JR Smith-(Iman Shumpert/Richard Jefferson)-LeBron James-Tristan Thompson
The best shot to stick with the Warriors is probably the team that just stuck the Warriors. There’s some question marks in that lineup (Will JR Smith be back in Cleveland? Where is Kevin Love? Can Shumpert or Jefferson be relied on? Who does Kyrie guard?), but there’s also a little something called “LeBron James” in that lineup.
If I’m facing the Warriors MEGA DEATH lineup, I’ll take LeBron and hope the other four guys figure it out.
Header image via Andrew Bernstein/Getty Images
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.