Turns out, the 2017 Cleveland Cavaliers knew what the rest of the basketball word knew — Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors on July 4, 2016 put the NBA on tilt.
What was not known, however, was that the Cavaliers attempted to beat the Warriors to the punch, even after taking them down in the 2016 NBA Finals.
How? By attempting to land Durant, a free agent after his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder concluded, in the summer of 2016.
Then-Cavaliers general manager David Griffin called a meeting with members of his staff only days after Cleveland’s historic takedown of Golden State in the 2016 Finals and presented them with a mission:
Explore ways to add Durant to the roster of the newly crowned NBA champions.
“I don’t believe you can dream big enough in the NBA,” Griffin told Zach Lowe of ESPN, reflecting on that meeting. “You have to go through that exercise.”
Kevin Love talked to ESPN last week about the big what if? As in, what if the 2017 Cavaliers, who fell to the Durant-led Warriors in five games in the Finals, saw Durant either re-up with OKC or sign with any other team and took on the Warriors they shocked the previous season?
“It would have been a great series,” Love said. “With [Harrison] Barnes and [Andrew] Bogut, they were a really tough team that played so well together. [Durant] signing there shifted the NBA in a big way. It’s still tilting the balance today.” Love also added the Cavaliers were confident anyway before the 2017 Finals.
The now-retired Richard Jefferson, a member of those Cavaliers teams, took it a step further.
“I know we all believe — and it’s just our opinion — that if Golden State brought back the same team [in 2017], we would have dominated,” he told ESPN.