Kevin Durant makes the Warriors the villain the NBA needs


Kevin Durant choosing to leave Oklahoma City and join the Warriors Monday could go down as one of the seminal moments in NBA history, on par with LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland and then return four years later.

The greatest regular-season team in NBA history just swapped out Harrison Barnes for one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game.

The strong just got stronger. There are now three Splash Brothers. There’s a Big Four in Oakland.

More importantly, the NBA now has the singular, unifying villain it needs.

Golden State’s roster is in flux for the time being —€” they’ll need to make a few moves to fit Durant —€” but no matter how it shakes out, Golden State will have a four-man core of Durant, back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

The Warriors must renounce all of their free agents —€” most notably Barnes and Festus Ezeli —€” and likely trade Andrew Bogut.

Who is going to be the Warriors’ starting center next year? That’s a question that will be answered soon. No matter who it is, the Warriors will close games with Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry.

The Death Lineup’s second edition is even more lethal than the first.

The public’s reaction to Durant going to the Warriors was quick and harsh —€” a predictable outcome.

The NBA had to love it.

The league wants parity, but more than that, it wants intriguing storylines. This is entertainment, above all. But in this cynical world, it’s really hard to sell a hero.

Don’t say the NBA didn’t try to take the righteous path, though. The Warriors were the league’s heroes —€” a significant, positive force —€” for the better part of two years. The NBA loved putting that on national TV —€” it’s rewarding to promote an uplifting product.

Then the 2016 playoffs started, and Green started hitting dudes below the belt, and the Warriors’ overwhelming confidence —€” once perceived as playful —€” started coming across as cocky arrogance to the general public.

It all culminated in the Finals: Green landed a suspension. Thompson questioned LeBron’s manhood. The Warriors’ complained openly and without remorse and then complained some more on the court in Games 5 and 6, culminating with Curry whipping his mouthguard in a fit of rage, hitting a courtside fan with it, and walking to the locker room before the game was over.

The Warriors’ heel turn was as fast as it was irreversible.

Regardless of if they signed Durant this summer, the Warriors would have entered the 2016-17 season as villains —€” but their new recruit makes that storyline all the better.

Durant will thrive in Golden State. All those open shots Barnes had in the NBA Finals? Those byproducts of the Warriors’ motion offense are Durant’s now. It’s frightening to think about.

The days of Curry and Durant averaging 30 points per game are done, as too are their MVP chances. No matter —€” the Warriors are overwhelming favorites to win a title next season. It’s Golden State against the world.

The Warriors might end up playing the most aesthetically pleasing basketball in NBA history, but unless you live in the Bay Area and are a longtime Warriors fan, you’re going to hate it, and the league is going to cash in on your hate.

It’s really hard to sell everyone on liking one team. It’s really easy to get everyone to hate on one. But narrative, in general, is hard to create.

TV ratings boomed in the NBA Finals, where the narrative was thick and rich. LeBron and Cleveland’s Curse vs. the greatest regular-season team of all time? Yes, please.

Ratings boomed for the Warriors’ run to 73 wins before that too, because who didn’t want to see history?

Those kinds of undeniable cosmic events don’t come around often … unless you’re the NBA.

Don’t go on about it being rigged —€” the NBA did what it could to prevent Durant from going to the Warriors.

The league office wanted to spread out the one-year jump in the salary cap (a byproduct of its new $24 billion TV deal) over several years, as to prevent a one-summer spending spree. They failed, and this is the byproduct.

You won’t be seeing Adam Silver vetoing the deal, though. This is a beautiful accident that will pad the league’s already tremendous bottom line.

The NBA is thriving today for many reasons, but one of the most significant reasons was LeBron going to Miami. The Big Three created a unifying force in a market that was easy to hate —€” there was league-wide intrigue in what Miami was doing and how it related to the 29 other teams.

All the negative things that were said about LeBron back then — they’ll be said about Durant now.

It’s bizarre. Four years ago, Durant was the model citizen and LeBron was the most hated man in sports. That’s completely flipped. There’s a far-too-often quoted line in a superhero movie about this sort of thing.

Either way, the NBA needs to start creating a Warriors-only option for it’s League Pass package because every game this season will be must-see. Perhaps they’ll just nationally televise them all.

The NBA has its new villain, and we have a new main topic of conversation for at least the next year.