Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 124

Superstar basketballer Kevin Durant, formerly of the Oklahoma City Thunder, recently signed as a free agent with one of that team’s biggest rivals the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won a record 73 out of 82 NBA regular season games last season. Despite the Warriors’ historical greatness Durant’s Thunder almost knocked them out of the playoffs, holding a 3-1 lead in their series before the Warriors won the last three games. But with Durant on the team the Warriors are now heavy favourites to win next year’s title.
The NBA has a salary cap which is intended to make the league more competitive. So how did the Warriors, with all their talent, manage to add one of the best players in the NBA? Similarly how did the Miami Heat add superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh back in 2010? Some NBA observers, including sports economist Dave Berri [The Atlantic] argue that the formation of ‘superteams’ is an unintended consequence of the ‘max contract’ that puts a limit on how much NBA players can earn. As a result superstars like Durant cost as much as mid-rung players like Harrison Barnes, who Durant is effectively replacing on the Warriors. Also, with a limit on monetary incentives in choosing teams, players may be basing their choices more on their chances of championship glory instead.
The Warriors have been the darlings of the NBA over the past couple of seasons with their dominance and attractive playing style, built on the amazing long-range shooting of Stephen Curry. No longer, some have said: the Warriors are now the Evil Empire [The Undefeated]. James, Bosh, and Dwyane Wade famously faced a hostile reception in their first season as teammates on the Miami Heat. Some reckon that the Warriors can expect the same once Durant suits up.
Golden State could offer Durant superstar teammates, and a Bay Area address in which to pursue his off-court interests. The main thing that OKC could offer was Kevin Durant, and perhaps that was the problem [The Ringer]. The Thunder now face some tough decisions, including what to do with their remaining superstar Russell Westbrook.
Speaking of Westbrook, you can take the challenge of, on a limited budget, trying to build a superteam to take on the Warriors [The Ringer]. Based on their categories I would take Russ, Kawhi Leonard, Steven Adams, DeAndre Jordan, and Avery Bradley.
But all is not lost. Even with Durant it is unlikely that the Warriors will win 73 games again, something that had never been achieved before [Fivethirtyeight]. There are diminishing returns in what Durant can add to the Warriors, and teams tend to revert back to the mean after highly successful seasons. And as the Warriors learned this year favourable odds in the playoffs are not a guarantee. Still other teams are going to need a lot of luck to beat this line-up.

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