Thursday the Golden State Warriors threw out the ceremonial first pitch of a baseball game that has already begun. If that makes no sense to you, consider that the National Basketball Association traffics in this sort news-after-the-news approach fairly regularly.
Thus, Kevin Durant was introduced as the newest and gaudiest Warrior signing since Wilt Chamberlain in 1959 -- four days after he himself broke the news.
Now bend your head around that a moment.
The mercifully brief Durant presser -- less than half an hour of formality in a genre that typically bloats itself to 2½ to three times as long -- was standard staging for such an event in that family and friends and business associates and office workers and season ticket holders helped pack the floor of the Warriors’ principal practice court to welcome him to his first obligatory media dance since he made his writing deadline for The Player’s Tribune.
Durant, general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr did some well-practiced standup, as is their wont in such situations. Durant spoke with allowable candor about how he detached himself from Oklahoma City to alight in Oakland, and with requisite enthusiasm about the future that is already here and has been here for two years. And there were eight separate ovations, driven mostly by the employees.
(Comrade Poole is covering that part of the dance for us, and you can see the presser any time you like on CSNBayArea.com. We’re swell people that way).
As ceremony, though, this was pretty boilerplate. Not quite The Decision, which was in many ways LeBron James’ Gallipoli, but a sufficiently big deal. I mean, Zaza Pachulia didn’t get a banner hung from the top of Oracle Arena now, did he?
And with the first of many staged episodes of the Kevin Durant Show behind him and us, we can now get to the far more meaningful business of seeing what exactly this momentarily massive event actually brings, and means.
The Durant acquisition calls into question very little about the Warriors unless you are dying to rank the factors and happenstance that brought him west (hint: Stephen Curry’s temporarily defective ankles and subsequent ownership-friendly contract that allowed the Warriors to do the deal at all ranks as No. 8 on your hit parade).
But it does shake the NBA to its labor-v.-management foundations, which is to say the owners have a decision to make as regards their view of how a collective bargaining agreement they were sure they had won has turned out so good for the players.
In other words, they must try to guesstimate the amount of money they could make by leaving the status quo stand viz. free agency, asset relocation, payroll flexibility, television subsidies and revenue percentages, and how much they could make by trying to crush the players in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement and hope that the laws of unattended consequences do not bite them again.
Durant is, in short, the perfect inside-the-hoopway signing because he takes James’ departure for Miami and subsequent return, and then the $2 billion ownership spending binge and slams them together into a potential flash point for an entertainingly bloody CBA season next calendar year.
Not to mention another contract year, in which Durant will be one of the three major figures yet again.
The rest of it, including the actual basketballitude, rests comfortably in the no-man’s land between anybody’s-guess and no-you-don’t-know-what-you-think-you-do. The Warriors’ chance of winning their second championship in three years has not materially increased in the sense that going from prohibitive favorite to prohibitive favorite is not much of a leap, but they are positioned as well as anyone to do so, even if they have to do it differently.
But it does mean that in the newest of the NBA’s new world orders, the Warriors have become the Los Angeles Lakers and the Lakers have become, well, the Warriors. The Western Conference has become one team easier to navigate, though the Thunder could be supplanted by the quirky but obstinate Portland Trail Blazers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves of all teams are positioned to be the conference’s most intriguing cell.
Now bend your head around THAT.
All because Kevin Durant listened to someone (choose your persuader) say something (choose your helpful phrase) that he was probably already keen to hear. He wanted this as much as the Warriors did, and now the two sides have to combine to earn each others’ infatuations.
Because the one thing we surely know, more than anything else, is that winning the offseason is always easier than winning the regular season, and winning the regular season doesn’t always mean winning the real season.
And in this case, winning the off, regular and real seasons aren’t the same as winning the expectation or universally beloved seasons. No matter much you may win, as it turns out, there’s always another rigged game to play. Hopefully the Warriors and Kevin Durant are fully prepared to play all of them in their proper order.