Shooting and age. They make this monstrous new superteam, this juggernaut that just decapitated its biggest long-term threat in the West, unlike any that came before.
Shooting makes every fit easier, because great shooters do damage even when they don't have the ball.
This isn't the 2011 Miami Heat, with two ball-dominant wings who couldn't spread the floor when the other guy took his turn.
The Golden State Warriors now have four All-NBA players ages 26 to 28. The LeBron James-era Heat had three stars, not four, and one of them -- Dwyane Wade -- was older in their first year together than any of Golden State's current stars.
The collective shooting on this team is outrageous -- including perhaps the two greatest shooters ever, with a seven-foot gunslinger about to enjoy the cleanest catch-and-shoot looks he has ever had. Only three guys had a larger gap than Kevin Durant between their actual field-goal percentage and the mark we would have expected based on the difficulty of those shots, per SportVU data provided to ESPN.com. One of the three was reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry. Things are about to get much easier for Durant and Curry.
Defenders have to be inside the jerseys of Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson at all times. Do you know how powerful that basic reality is? Even if the Warriors changed literally nothing about their offense -- if Durant just played the role of Harrison Barnes -- they could be the greatest scoring team in history. The lane will be wide open for cutters. They can generate open 3s at will, just by running everyone off picks until some defender falls behind.
But the offense will be different. That's the point. As great as they are, the Warriors over the past two seasons found the going much tougher in the playoffs. The whole league watched the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers ugly up their offense by switching everything on Curry. A healthier Curry would have exploited that more often this past postseason, but it still felt at times like the Warriors were dancing around the 3-point arc, waiting for some event -- a defender messing up a switch or Curry launching step-back fire.
It was hard work, and it happened far from the basket. The Warriors now have more ways to enter the teeth of the defense. Durant can drive. He can run a nice pick-and-roll. He shot 61 percent on post-ups last season, per Synergy Sports, and honestly, that number kind of makes you want to cry. He has a ton of experience screening in the pick-and-roll, and his old dance partner, Russell Westbrook, is a so-so jump-shooter that teams are generally fine with leaving open; they'd try to go under and stick with Durant. Curry's main pick-and-roll partner, Draymond Green, is a so-so jump-shooter that teams are generally fine with leaving open.
What are you supposed to do with a Curry-Durant pick-and-roll? You can't leave either party open, even for a millisecond. You can't switch -- unless you hide your point guard on Thompson so that a bigger wing has Curry, and probably not even then. The Warriors' offense was beautiful and intricate. It will still be beautiful, but now it can also be simple: Dump the ball to Durant and get the hell out of the way. Simple is really useful during the playoffs, when defenses focus hard enough to track the intricate.
There will be fit issues; Durant will not get to hold the ball and jab step for five seconds as often as he did in Oklahoma City. The Heat's Big Three and those great Lakers teams were not nearly as good in real life as they looked on paper, at least not right away.
But again: shooting. Curry is fine playing away from the ball; he might be the most dangerous off-ball player in the league. Thompson might never have to dribble again.
The Warriors have limited resources to fill out a bench and acquire large humans, especially since they apparently chose Shaun Livingston over Festus Ezeli as the mid-sized salary to keep while squeezing in Durant's max money. Six months ago, the Golden State brass preferred Ezeli, but they have no confidence left in his knees or his game. The Warriors have only the minimum salary and room exception, worth about $2.9 million, left to fill the roster. That buys you nothing in a world of infinite cap room. Jon Leuer is making eight figures.
They need some competent size to cinch up their rebounding; Chris Kaman and JJ Hickson aren't getting it done. That is a real problem. Then again, there are a ton of leftover big men and very few cap-room teams with a need up front. But Durant fits their switchy defensive scheme. And he showed a new frenzy on that end in the postseason -- better effort, smarter reads and scary rim protection. He can guard every position in a pinch and provide more length and rebounding than Barnes in the revamped Death Lineup.
Every contender builds with one eye on James, and Durant is a much better one-on-one option against him than Barnes. That is crucial in preserving Andre Iguodala's body.
This team will be top-heavy -- and thin. They will need to find a couple of Richard Jefferson-like ring chasers. That is the price you pay for loading up on stars. They would have eventually faced the same general money crunch anyway, with Barnes and then Curry on max contracts. This price is a little steeper, since they lose rotation players and access to the full mid-level exception, but you get Durant and figure the rest out.
Most championship teams are top-heavy and thin. No matter how deep you are, if a star gets hurt in May and June, you are probably sunk.
In the end, that is the best reason for choosing Durant over Barnes, Ezeli and Andrew Bogut: He is a hedge against an ill-timed injury to Curry, Thompson or Green in a way no seventh or eighth guy ever could be. The cruel irony is that the post-James Harden Thunder know better than anyone the importance of a hedge against superstar injuries. The Warriors can engineer depth when things really count by keeping two of their four stars on the floor at all times.
This star hoarding is only possible because of an unprecedented spike in the salary cap, and both the league and players union must reckon over what they have wrought here. We have spilled a ton of internet ink over Curry's absurd below-market extension, but the cap leaped so high that the Warriors could have fit Durant's salary even had Curry signed a max-level deal back in 2012. The only extra cost would have been Livingston.
In the end, the Warriors were the only team that really drew Durant's interest. His reps at Nike love the idea of him stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area, even playing with Under Armour's signature star, league sources said. Executives from another team that met with Durant said he spent most of the meeting silent and didn't ask any questions. Without the cap spike, the Warriors would have had to make more painful sacrifices to get in the conversation.
And the cap will jump so high again in a year that Golden State will have plenty of room to re-sign Durant for his full super-max -- though it may cost them Iguodala, depending on the precise cap figure. The league proposed smoothing the cap increase to prevent this exact scenario, but the idea emerged too late, and the union rejected it out of hand. It all felt perfunctory, almost for show. With collective bargaining talks ongoing, enraged owners might push for a deeper discussion about scrapping the ceiling on individual player salaries.
So now, we have another superteam. Durant will get ripped for this, and it will mostly be stupid. It was stupid how the media lionized him way back in 2010 for tweeting about his extension with Oklahoma City, while James rushed into a ridiculous television show. Durant was a restricted free agent then, and few things are as predictable as a superstar restricted free agent re-signing for the maximum salary at the first moment possible. LeBron was unrestricted in 2010, and Durant, in his first shot at the free market, changed teams after a whirlwind courtship.
Staying didn't make Durant a humble hero then, and leaving doesn't make him a villain now. He left a job he held for nine years in favor of another job. His route to the championship is easier, and if he stays long term in Golden State, he might never be indisputably the greatest player on a championship team. That could be interesting in sussing out his place in history. He also might win three NBA Finals MVPs. Who knows? Everyone hated James for joining his friends in Miami -- until he won a ring. No one ever hated Larry Bird for playing next to Hall of Famers all over the damn court.
The Warriors will enter next season as massive favorites in the Western Conference. They didn't just sign Durant, they gutted the only Western Conference team they feared. They do not fear the Spurs. After losing in San Antonio in March, Golden State's players talked in the locker room about how the Spurs had no chance against them in a seven game-series, per several team sources -- about how San Antonio could only manage 87 points even with Iguodala and Bogut in street clothes that night.
They were right to fear the Thunder. Golden State's road win in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, after being down 3-1, will live forever as a comeback that changed the foundation of the league. That game made Thompson an NBA immortal. He saved the Warriors' season -- and ultimately nudged Durant away from Oklahoma City.
It was a performance so remarkable that Warriors general manager Bob Myers went back and re-watched the final five minutes right away -- the first time has done so for any Golden State game.
"I never do that," Myers told me during the Finals. "I just wanted to see what happened. I didn't understand it. I still don't."
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was in such disbelief after a Thompson 30-footer with about five minutes to go in that Game 6 that he scanned the crowd, locked eyes with a Thunder fan seated courtside and exclaimed to her, "How the heck does he do that?"
"I just had to say something to someone, and she was the first person I saw," Kerr said during the Finals.
Those shots are the margin between the Thunder making the Finals and this complete franchise devastation.
Thunder GM Sam Presti prepared Oklahoma City for Durant's departure as best he could. Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo are real building blocks; perhaps the Thunder will invest a little more time in Dion Waiters. Scouts love Domantas Sabonis, the other core piece Presti wrangled from the Orlando Magic in the Serge Ibaka deal.
If Westbrook re-signs next summer, the Thunder will be feisty enough to soften the blow of Durant's departure -- and of Harden's presence elsewhere on a below-market extension that runs through 2018. But these Thunder without Durant aren't title contenders, and Westbrook's eyes will wander. Other teams will start calling.
The Lakers, Westbrook's hometown team, have a gleaming city, several interesting young players and a timeline for recovery hanging over the neck of team executive Jim Buss like a guillotine. In theory, the Lakers should simply wait for Westbrook to hit free agency, stink badly enough to keep their pick yet again and sign him without dealing away any assets -- the road not taken with the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony.
In practice, that is a risk, especially given the Lakers can no longer get star free agents to pick up their calls. Everyone will have cap space again next summer, including the crosstown Clippers. Unless you know for sure -- wink, wink -- Westbrook is in, there is value in picking him up ahead of time and securing the right to offer him more years and more cash.
The Lakers still have enough cap room to extend Westbrook's contract on the spot if they nab him. Any team (including the Thunder) with the requisite space can bump his 2016-17 salary up from $17.8 million to his new max, about $26.5 million, and tack on three more years from there with 4.5 percent annual raises. By signing an extension, Westbrook would forfeit free agency under next year's mega-cap, but the huge raise this season makes it closer to a wash than expected over the next four years.
Presti doesn't want to trade Westbrook, but if he feels backed into a corner, he will chase young players and draft picks. The Phoenix Suns reportedly talked with the Atlanta Hawks about Paul Millsap, and they come armed with prospects galore, extra point guards and two future Miami picks. The Denver Nuggets had the Hawks biting on a package of picks and players, including Kenneth Faried, for Millsap, per several league sources, but it's unclear if Denver would chase Westbrook. Both teams have enough cap space left to renegotiate and extend Westbrook, though he might not have any interest in sticking around either place.
The Magic, a trade partner just 10 days ago, have a bunch of interesting young guys and a win-now mandate. The Boston Celtics can throw all their unused trade assets at Oklahoma City.
Presti would call everyone with a young stud, just as he did in dealing Harden: the Milwaukee Bucks with Jabari Parker, the Minnesota Timberwolves with Andrew Wiggins and a few other possibilities. The Lakers threat will depress the trade market, barring some hush-hush advance agreement from Westbrook's camp.
Either way, the Durant-Westbrook Thunder take their place as the NBA's great dynasty that wasn't. They made one precocious Finals run and never returned, undone by injuries, bad luck, the rise of Golden State and one trade that reduced their margin for error. If Westbrook stays, they will rebuild from the middle, and we will see if Presti can appeal to free agents who might take them from 40-plus wins back into the 50s. If Westbrook leaves, the climb will be long and painful.
Golden State has reached the top, and the Warriors are primed to seize the throne back from Cleveland. It's too soon to pencil in a dynasty. They have no bench right now. And crazy things can happen -- just ask the Thunder. But the Warriors will enter next season as favorites, with the chance again to be an all-time team.