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CLEVELAND – As Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning, Cleveland general manager David Griffin found Bob Myers in a corridor to congratulate the Golden State general manager on the victory that pushed these NBA Finals to 3-0, delivering a knowing nod on a much larger vanquishing of the sport.
“You guys are awesome,” Myers told Griffin.
“You guys are something all together different,” Griffin responded, and soon the ultimate reason for that unmistakable truth emerged out of the Golden State locker room. Kevin Durant walked past two general managers on the way to the interview podium, on the cusp of a Finals MVP, a championship and perhaps the beginning of an NBA era that threatens to transform into a monument to his greatness.
This is Durant’s time now, born of his decision to depart Oklahoma City, a franchise’s foresight to recruit him and ultimately a perfect blend of personalities, culture and staggering talent.
In so much of the conversation that surrounds Durant’s move to the Warriors, there’s a mistaken idea his arrival had been largely the product of a sudden spike in the 2016-17 salary cap. In some ways, it too easily dismisses the deftness of planning in Golden State’s summer coup and underestimates Durant’s deep desire to play for them.
Long before NBA owners and executives were fully abreast of how exactly the changing economics would impact the salary cap, how quickly the influx of new television money would be introduced into the cap, Golden State had targeted Durant and understood the machinations needed to get it there. Under the old salary cap, Golden State would’ve needed to renounce free agents (Harrison Barnes, Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa) and trade Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala.
Under the new cap, Golden State did everything except move Iguodala to create the salary-cap space a year ago. For all the belief that Golden State was gifted the opportunity to sign Durant based upon the economic shift of the NBA television revenues, the truth is this: Golden State would’ve moved Iguodala to a team with salary cap space and still have Durant now.
The Warriors would miss Iguodala dearly, but Golden State wouldn’t have blinked at the chance to secure Durant. If the Warriors needed Durant to take less than the $26.5 million for 2016-17, he probably would’ve agreed to that, too.
“What we never talked about in those days in the Hamptons in July was money, and how much exactly he’d get in Golden State versus anywhere else,” Durant’s agent, Rich Kleiman, told The Vertical. “And that won’t be a factor this year in our talks with them either.”
In signing another new deal this July, Durant could accept moderately less money and preserve the Warriors’ ability to retain Iguodala and Shaun Livingston in free agency. There will never be a way for the NBA to legislate parity if teams are well-managed and well-run, and superstars are willing to pass on bigger money in pursuit of choosing a new destination.
And now, the Warriors have staying power, four All-Stars and two MVPs in the prime of Hall-of-Fame careers. Around the NBA, resistance feels futile. After Game 3, Sean Ford of USA Basketball was in the corridor outside the Warriors’ locker room, a man responsible for working with Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski in assembling the past three gold-medal-winning Team USA rosters.
“There were 10 USA Olympians on the floor tonight,” Ford marveled. For the Cavaliers, the trouble was this: Two players belonging to them – Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson – are far along into the downside of their careers.
That only makes what the Warriors have assembled that much more incredible. When Golden State gathered to recruit Durant in the Hamptons, Myers had constructed a roster and salary structure that allowed for the franchise to bring Iguodala to the presentation. After all, Iguodala wouldn’t be a cap casualty with Durant’s arrival. The Clippers couldn’t do that with J.J. Redick in the Hamptons, because he would’ve had to go upon Durant’s arrival.
Once the Warriors’ players started to break into a smaller group with Durant, Iguodala didn’t come with a hard sell but a softer supposition.
Do what you think will make you happy, Iguodala told Durant, witnesses told The Vertical. Do it in Golden State, or do it somewhere else. Iguodala didn’t push him to choose the Warriors, only contentment. As it turns out, it was the perfect complement to the Warriors’ broader pitch: As much as we’d love to have you, both sides can win titles without each other.
As Myers told Durant earlier in the meeting, the Warriors can still probably win titles without you. And Myers told him, you’ll probably win a title or two without us. And finally Myers finished: Just imagine what we can do together, though.
As Durant prepared to make his decision, he did privately wonder to people: How would the move to Golden State look? How would it be judged?
It’s a natural human question, but he moved beyond it and rapidly realized: For him, it wouldn’t matter. You’ll get beaten up if you stay and don’t win a title in Oklahoma City, and you’ll get beaten up if you climb onto a 73-victory team and win titles in Golden State.
Durant has loved his season with the Warriors, with the lifestyle change to the Bay Area, with the way the talent surrounding him showcases the totality of his talents. In the end, they’ll remember Durant rising over LeBron James inside the final minute of Game 3, delivering a long 3-pointer without so much as a hesitation. They’ll remember an all-time player on an all-team at the apex of his game, winning a title, a Finals MVP and completing a season that changed everything about the NBA’s power structure.
And to think there was something of dumb luck that delivered Durant to the Warriors, merely a spike in salary-cap space, is missing everything. Golden State was getting Durant – with or without Iguodala on the roster. There was no stopping them in July, and there’s no stopping them in June now.
So in the early hours of Thursday morning, David Griffin – the architect of a great championship roster in Cleveland – was right. These Golden State Warriors are all together something different, and, yes, a dynasty born of Kevin Durant’s manifest destiny starts now.
More from The Vertical:
• Harsh reality: Cavs are cooked – now and forever
• Confession of LeBron: ‘I’m drained right now’ after another Finals loss to Warriors
• What makes Warriors so potent? Kevin Durant now ‘a monster defensively’