The animosity aimed towards the Golden State Warriors this season was to be expected.
From the moment the team signed former MVP Kevin Durant, it was obvious that a lot of the fans, analysts, general managers and former players would have an issue with it.
Fans were furious — and some still are — because a lot of people perceive Durant’s decision as a sign of weakness or even cowardice. The Warriors eliminated Oklahoma City from the Western Conference Finals, Durant then left Oklahoma City for the Warriors in what seemed like a "if you can't beat them, join them" type of move. Others hate it for the sole reason that they believe it is detrimental to the league, citing a lack of parity and criticizing players’ competitive spirit — or lack thereof.
But is that how it really played out?
Try Kevin Durant’s shoes on for size
In June, CSN reported the Warriors had been recruiting Durant all year. This wasn't something that happened between the conference finals and free agency. Golden State players had been texting Durant at the start of the season when Oklahoma was struggling to find its rhythm. Perhaps losing in the conference finals pushed Durant towards joining the Warriors, but the idea had clearly been in his head long before that day.
Put yourself in Durant’s shoes for a moment:
You have spent nine years of your career with Oklahoma City. You've had some amazing success as an individual but have only made it to the NBA Finals once. Your front office has let you down repeatedly — the highlight, of course, being the trade which sent James Harden to Houston. Your infamously tight-fisted owner, Clay Bennett, and his general manager, Sam Presti, then went on to fill the void left by Harden with illustrious talent such as: Kevin Martin, who left after one season, Reggie Jackson, who is now starting in Detroit, and Dion Waiters, who is now in Miami. On top of all this, you've spent most of your career in an offense consisting of simple high-screen pick-and-rolls with the occasional isolation sprinkled in.
Isn't it possible that if you were Kevin Durant you might have woken up one day and said to yourself: Is this where I want to spend the rest of my career?
Meanwhile, there's a team in California playing team basketball at a level that only the 2014 Spurs and 1986 Celtics could top. They're breathtaking to watch: the ball movement ... cutting ... shooting ... team-first approach. And they want you to join them.
They've already won a championship and now that they've had a taste of glory, the ecstasy of gold fuels them. For the most part, they're not focused on individual accolades or statistics. The face of the franchise has already achieved what no one else could — he's the only unanimous MVP in NBA history. Stephen Curry went as far as to tell Durant that he didn't care about being the face of the franchise and he would be rooting for Durant to win his second MVP award.
All they want to do is win. Wouldn't that tempt anyone?
An even playing
The other common argument is about parity. It isn't good for the league to be so top heavy. "It's not like it used to be," some might say. When I see this argument on social media or hear it on podcasts or on TV, I have to question people’s memories.
Between 1980 and 1989, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics won 80% of the NBA titles.
Between 1990 and 1999, the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets won 80% of the NBA titles.
Half a dozen franchises have dominated this league since the very early 80s. The last time the NBA had anything even remotely resembling a well-balanced league was in the 1970s. From 1980 to 2014, six franchises won 31 titles out of 35 total.
Super teams aren't new. They've been around for decades. Sure, the way they're being formed is new. But you can blame LeBron James for that. Besides, isn't it good that players have this freedom? James knew Cleveland couldn't win and he knew the front office was too incompetent to surround him with the talent required to win it all. So he took matters into his own hands and formed his own team. Since then, he has hand-picked nearly every roster that he's played with. Even when he returned to Cleveland in an attempt to redeem himself after heading south for Miami, he didn't go back to the same team he left. He went back to a team with the number one draft pick and Kyrie Irving, which he turned into Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. He was smart and judicious in timing his return.
Golden State arrogance — or media-made monster?
But the hatred that many carry for this team goes beyond the recent signing of Durant. It started over a year ago after the Warriors won their first NBA championship. Some of the reasons behind people’s dislike for this team were recently listed by Nick Wright on The Herd:
Some of Mr. Wright’s points have merit — to an extent.
However, his biggest gripe seems to be that the Warriors are "arrogant," despite all of the great PR they've received.
Yes, the Warriors were arrogant last season and might even be arrogant again this season. Why? Because you made them this way. You, the fans, reporters, bloggers and analysts.
All of the fans who put an asterisk next to the Warriors’ championship in 2015 because they played teams who weren't at full health ... all the fans who said Curry didn't deserve the MVP award ... all of the "analysts" (and I use that term loosely) that stated the Warriors "got lucky" in their championship season.
You made them and their fans embrace the arrogance.
They came into the 2015-2016 season with a chip on their shoulder ... angry ... and can you blame them? How many teams have won an NBA championship and then had to spend the entire offseason hearing people belittle their accomplishment, talking about how they didn't deserve it? Talking about how lucky they were, completely undervaluing the effort and skill required to achieve what they did?
From the moment they walked onto the hardwood at the start of last season, the Warriors felt the world was against them. This is a big reason they managed to have the best start to a season in NBA history. It's part of the reason they managed to torture the entire league and win 73 games. Arrogant, smug, boisterous and having the time of their lives ... at the expense of your favorite team.
Yet, you continued to doubt them: Draymond Green is a system player; Klay Thompson wouldn't be this good if he wasn't next to Curry; Kerr’s system only works because of the talent on the roster; Curry is "just a shooter."
The Warriors won 73 games and during this monumental journey a large number of retired players flat-out said that the Warriors’ stars couldn't have played during their era.
As if Curry couldn't drop 30 points on any given night in the same era that Mark Price netted 37 points against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. As if Klay Thompson at 6’7”, 215 lbs would struggle in an era where a 6’6” 200 lb Chris Mullin flourished.
Social media, fans, analysts and former players have reveled in the Warrior’s misery they helped create — taunting and teasing at every opportunity. Perhaps, deservedly so. But how can people expect the Warriors not to rub people’s faces in it when they prove them wrong? Do you really think that if they win it all this year they're going to start conducting themselves differently?
No love for the heart of the team
Draymond Green is another focus of the "haters." To most, he is an obnoxious and arrogant man who has had his share of off-court drama. To many Warriors fans, he's a passionate man who speaks his mind. Love him or hate him, you're lying to yourself if you say you wouldn't want someone with his approach to the game on your team. His ride-or-die loyalty to the Warriors’ organization and his teammates is what endeared him to Dub Nation. Plus, he never quits on a play. And on the nights where everyone else looks unfocused and drained of energy, he's out there doing the dirty work. He might be listed as 6’7”, but some nights he plays like he's 7’7”.
Is Draymond Green dirty? Yes, somewhat. But I would happily argue that there has never been a defender in the history of the NBA who was regarded as "elite" and wasn't at least a little bit dirty.
Coming into the league, scouts said Green didn't have a natural position, he was too slow and lacked the necessary athleticism to guard wings while being too small to guard power forwards. "What position will he defend?" many scouts asked. Now, Green is regarded as one of the most versatile defenders in the league.
Nobody drafted Green in the first round — not even the Warriors, who opted to draft Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli ahead of him. Eventually, he was drafted in the second round by the Warriors, 35th overall. He was doubted from day one, had a lot to prove and committed himself to proving it.
Despite falling short, Green has had a legitimate argument for winning defensive player of the year for the past two seasons. On top of that, he has two All-NBA Defensive First Team appearances as well as making the All-NBA Second Team last season. He has also made the All-Star Game, won an NBA Championship and an Olympic and registered 32 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and two steals in Game 7 of the NBA finals last year.
Yet, some people still have the audacity to call him a system player.
Draymond Green isn't a system player. He's the system.
How many players can legitimately hold their own defending all five positions? Green is the fulcrum for the Warriors’ "switch everything" defense. The Death Lineup would cease to exist without Green; it's his versatility that makes that lineup possible. Having a player that can cope defensively against centers while also being able to switch onto guards in pick-and-roll situations is valuable. But having someone who can do that and then bring the ball up the court on offense and allow Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, to play off the ball, running defenders through myriad screens? That's indispensable.
And you wonder why he's arrogant? When his impact is constantly diminished? When people think he needs the Warriors more than they need him?
Fans, analysts and former players continue to doubt the Warriors. If you bought into what you read on social media and watched on shows like The Herd you would probably wonder why people were so worried about this team "breaking the league." I mean, according to most of these people, all the Warriors have done is assemble a team consisting of two chokers (one of whom is also a coward), a streaky scorer (who is too arrogant to sacrifice shots for victories) and one really dirty system player.
I tend not to "hate" any players. The concept of hating someone because of the way they play a sport is odd to me — let alone hating someone I've never even met.
But are the Warriors arrogant?
Yes — justifiably so. And no amount of complaining is going to change that.
But one day all of these players will retire (Warriors fans can only hope that they all retire in blue and gold). And, once they've retired, you don't want to suddenly realize you spent so much time criticizing them that you missed the opportunity to appreciate how great they are — poetry in motion, visually divine, jaw-dropping plays that make you question what you just witnessed with your own eyes.
So, sit back and enjoy the show! Love them or loathe them — you'll probably never see a team like this again.