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A Good Day in the NBA
A casual fan's perspective
Maybe a bit dangerous to publish before the NBA trade deadline officially ends but here goes…
Since quitting my old job, I’ve become more of a sports normie. When it comes to basketball, the just traded Kevin Durant might even call me a casual. I talk to a lot of people around the league, but its absent a deep engagement with who won last night and who’s playing better lately. On the one hand, this is a source of disappointment to friends and neighbors who expect some special insight from Sports Writer Man in reaction to a massive trade like KD to the Suns.
On the other hand, I really like this new perspective, derived from distance. It robs me of certain abilities but also grants a clearer 30,000 foot view of a sport I used to be immersed in. From that vantage, I’ll say this much about the Suns big move for Kevin Durant: It’s good for the NBA.
Why? How can I claim this when such a move seems to epitomize the problems of a league that’s gone wayward? When it’s another instance of a superstar de-committing from a situation he chose, only to hop to a new group of super friends?
A Necessary Demise
There are a few reasons, but first and foremost, the Brooklyn Nets monstrosity had to be destroyed. KD, Kyrie, and Harden joined forces to create something that appeared to inspire nobody, not even themselves. Ironically, the byproduct of friends joining up was a situation that seemed cold and inorganic. Quoting, well, me, the Nets were the hollow product of a bloodless neoliberal vision. They were a manifestation of this dispiriting corporate idea that the league could simply sell players without the athletes having to buy into much more than themselves, and it would all work because social media and China. Thank God that’s over.
The most underrated issue in Brooklyn is simply that there isn’t a numerous, passionate, or long standing cohort of Nets fans. The Phoenix Suns, in contrast, actually do have a sizable fanbase and it dates back to the team’s founding in 1968.
This matters, at least to me. I want the stakes of a competition to be about more than the egos of individuals. The best part of my job was walking into the arena for a big playoff game and feeling that buzz of nervous crowd energy. My most vivid memory of the 2016 NBA Finals isn’t any particular play; It was just before Game 6, at Quicken Loans in Cleveland, when the jumbotron was blasting Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and nearly everyone there, even elderly concessioners, were screaming out the lyrics. There’s no substitute for 20,000 heavily invested people meeting a moment of variance and truly living in it, all together. You’re not getting a, “my father really wants to see them win it before he dies,” energy in Brooklyn. Apologies to any Nets fans, but I’d rather watch great players in a different setting.
KD, with Stakes
It’s all set up so perfectly for Kevin Durant now, isn’t it? The Suns have the most talent among teams but in a way that seems more balanced than whatever Brooklyn was. KD can score and make a massive impact, but he doesn’t have to lead.
Everyone grasps that this is a near ideal Durant situation, which means he’ll get ripped apart by sports talk media if it doesn’t work out. That adds some juice to the playoff games. He’d never give critics the satisfaction of admitting it, but Kevin Durant is now playing for his reputation. No, we won’t suddenly decide that one of the greatest scorers ever actually stinks, but it’s his chance at a title as clearly the best player on his team. If he fails again, he’s forever a bus rider and not a bus driver. Or at least, he’s the former until he can try again next season.
The Warriors, with Stakes
TBD on much of this, considering Steph Curry’s murky injury timeline, but the Suns’ move puts pressure on the Warriors to consolidate their timeline and battle a rising power out West. The defending champs have been scuffling and seemingly undermotivated. Heightened competition could help break them out of this.
The KD move also increases the odds of a Durant vs. the Warriors playoff series. I don’t have to get into why that would be intriguing. Even the most casual of casuals get it.
UPDATE: The Warriors, perhaps antsy, jettisoned former number 2 pick James Wiseman so they could bring back super role player Gary Payton II.
The casual verdict on the 2022-2023 season: It’s been terrible. The Warriors’ title defense has been lethargic, broken and overall, boring. We’ve seen big scoring nights from players, but it’s been to such a degree that these feats now seem cheapened. The Nikola Jokic MVP conversation is a rerun of conversations from past seasons. LeBron’s scoring title achievement is an impressive historic accomplishment but the extravagantly indulged individualism of that evening, combined with a team loss, spoke to why the Laker Chapter hasn’t totally resonated for James. Ja Morant’s dealing with bizarre offcourt issues. Whatever’s going on with Kawhi and Paul George down there with the Clippers.
Now, with the Suns trade, the season has a bit more shape to it. There’s a new power out West. How will the other teams respond? Which ones can crack them? Will we get to see Steph Curry try? What if Kyrie Irving’s Dallas Mavericks get their shot?
In essence, the Suns’ move is intrigue, delivered out of nowhere, to a season and sport that could use it. Perhaps it happened for all the reasons the NBA has run aground lately. Maybe some of you are already too sick of the superstar carousel to care. If so, I get it.
Sometimes, though “results” beats “process,” and in this instance, the result is a positive for a league in need of glad tidings. The Nets era was horrible for the NBA. The Suns intervention, combined with the Dallas desperation move, broke up a bad holding pattern. Now I just know I’ll be watching this postseason, casually or otherwise.
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