It feels like the beginning of something big. Analysts and fans have been talking about it since the Fourth of July, feeling some feelings about it, like it’s something we’ll be looking at for years to come. On Thursday, October 13th, in advance of the Los Angeles Clippers playing the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason match-up, Paul “The Truth” Pierce – 2008 NBA Finals MVP, en route to the hall of fame, playing his final season with the Clippers this year – laid down some law about what he sees as the “new generation.”
“I understand when you have great players on losing teams who are tired of losing, struggling in the playoffs every year – you’re the lone star,” he said on a league-sponsored Sirius XM show. “I’ve been in that position. I could have left Boston years ago, but I stuck it out. I just feel like when you’re that close, as a competitor, you don’t go join the team that just put you out.” When he said he understood, he was referring to his experience carrying the Celtics through 10 years without a ring, and while he left some key details out of that narrative, his critique is the kind that goes over well with people who are nostalgic for an era Pierce certainly never played in; sure enough, he cites Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as distinct competitors who would never join forces just for a championship.
But we’re not talking about Bird, and we’re not talking about Magic. We’re talking about the most controversial free agent signing since LeBron went to Miami: Kevin Durant, the powerhouse talent who left the Oklahoma City Thunder last July (or months before that in spirit, as some have alleged) for the Golden State Warriors, in an exciting one-two step toward what might be, if preseason games are not (and they could be) mirages, the most unstoppable and thus most hateable team in the league. With not just an unreal starting five but also too many great shooters to count without feeling petty, a deep bench and a style of play that causes haters to say those words with more bile than the syllables can hold, Durant on the Warriors means you better watch out. Mostly, you better watch. In spite of all the stars on the roster, the story has always been that Steve Kerr and his brood have fun and de-emphasize ego – when someone’s hot, the rule is you feed him the ball as much as possible. This is a family team. Welcome to the family, KD.
But first: a few more words on what it means to be hateable. Draymond Green, the nut-tapping, trash-talking, adorable so-and-so on the frontlines of Warriors villainy, went off on Pierce specifically, and disbelievers generally, in a rant that compared his team with franchises of a different sort.
“Nobody complains when somebody leaves Apple and goes to Google,” Green said. “Aren’t they in competition with each other? Nobody talks junk about the CEO who leaves Apple and goes to Google. As a basketball player, you are the CEO of a business. You are a business. Kevin Durant is a big business.”
The idea that venture capitalists own and are invested in the Warriors, that this is poison in the root, out to kill joy and that basketball is first and foremost a product is not new at the dawn of the post-73 era, while the words “3-1 lead” can still lead to fights. But it’s something to remember when one of the franchise’s most visible faces repeats that kind of language to critics. Friends of the team are even on record saying what Green said in more words: Golden State is “the Google of the NBA.” Perhaps this organizational attitude stems from owner Joe Lacob, whose Silicon Valley – “structure” this, “agile” that – is one of a fluent, if not native, speaker. Business is explicitly a positive value for the Warriors. History has taught us that rising stars, fast and entertaining players and even coaching legends have a habit of making promises in Oakland that amount to hot breath; those guys either bolted or fizzled. The difference with this team, this new San Francisco Bay Area bubble (and they’re always bubbles), is managerial acumen, or at least the wins to prove they know what they’re doing.
Now that the Warriors have Durant, keeping him happy is top priority, like it would be for any business with a new, top-tier hire. Keeping him happy involves an environment that Durant has called selfless, to many reporters’ dramatic delight. Leaving aside what the press turned that quote into (leave Russell Westbrook alone, please), the meaning of selflessness here is kind of a mystery. Durant could just mean being tired of losing, as Pierce suggested, and not being a ball hog. He could also mean a willingness to learn from each other and collaborate – already, Durant is pulling moves like Steph, shooting threes and turning around before the ball even goes in. For some, that’s arrogance; for the rest of us, it’s just cool.
No matter what the team does now, Warrior haters draw the same conclusion: This team has broken (disrupted?) basketball. This team is a bunch of shiny, happy, tech-funded monsters. This team is a bunch of show-offs, led by two guys born with silver spoons in their mouths and the opportunity to splash feet first into the NBA This team is the Death Star. Do you really want to root for the Death Star?
That said, maybe you’ve been dyed in the wool since birth. Maybe you’re going to choose darkness. Maybe you just like that one ad where Draymond is making a sandwich. It’s a big tent – who will you be rooting for? Besides Durant (who’s plenty), the aforementioned Green, the low-key crucial Klay Thompson and Parents magazine cover star Steph Curry, you’ve got a lot of people to focus on. You’ve got a number of players who might get more minutes than last season: your Ian Clarks, your James Michael McAdoos, etc., as well as the smart and tough new center Zaza Pachulia and returned favorites Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, who will continue to jump in when needed, when the big four are not in play. You’ve got enormous JaVale McGee, who has a much-needed 7-foot-8 wingspan (Jesus Christ) and sadly thinks the fans think he’s “a dumb person,” which is kind of sweet, don’t you think? And you have David West, who I’m willing to bet is one of the few players a coach has said “he’s like that George Bernard Shaw quote” about; he’s more of a ring-chaser than KD, if we’re naming names, but he’s a serious, passionate, interesting one, with a lot on his mind and a game that is bruisingly physical.
But promise and experimentation are the themes for the Warriors this season, like it is for any team with a missed championship in the rearview, but maybe more so when you also have a record season above your head. As far as newbies go, you could really do worse than Patrick McCaw, a second-round draft pick by Milwaukee that the Warriors scooped up in July. McCaw is really young (he’ll turn 21 when the season starts) and better than you expect him to be, already with some points at the buzzer that prompted an approving Kerr grin. In Summer League, he scored 28 points in 37 minutes (!) and he’s already creative and comfortable on court, assisting his teammates like he’s been in blue and yellow since at least 2014. Karaoke skills notwithstanding, he’s a promising addition that people are already hyping up, and if I were him, I wouldn’t be mad about it. Quite frankly, I’m not mad about any of this. It’s Golden State’s to lose at this point. They have high hopes behind every win, and any hate from the outside is founded on a desire to see those hopes dashed.
Let the hate continue. It’s time to watch the new generation.