We’re more than two years away from the sign-and-trade deal that sent Kevin Durant to the Nets, but it’s still easy to go back to hypothetical dirt and ask the big question: What if Durant had decided he wanted to stay? with the warriors?
From 2016-19, Golden State experienced basketball nirvana. Durant slipped smoothly into Steve Kerr’s rotation, and the Warriors proceeded to capture back-to-back championships, with about three at-bats remaining after Durant (Achilles) and Klay Thompson (ACL) suffered season-ending injuries in 2019. Finals of the NBA.
While that season ended in disappointment, Durant apparently still had the perfect situation in front of him when he entered free agency. The Warriors would give him any type of contract he wanted and he would have time to go through the rehab process in a family setting. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green could stay strong and then resume their dominance of the NBA when Durant and Thompson returned.
But the situation was not perfect, far from it, actually.
Why did Kevin Durant leave the Warriors for the Nets?
In Durant’s mind, choosing Brooklyn as the next stop in his career was easy. He said he had a brief conversation with his close friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan around 4:15 a.m. when free agency opened, and the three players were immediately on board bound for the Nets.
“I felt like it was time for a change. I wanted to play for a new team,” Durant said on team media day in 2019. “Simply put, I just did. I didn’t really think about what I was leaving behind. or what we achieve. I already put it on the shelf. When it came time to make a decision about my future, I only thought only about myself. “
In addition to being ready for a new opportunity in Brooklyn, Durant said JR Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal that despite feeling accepted by the Warriors, he knew he would never really be “one of those guys.”
“Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, the first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there,” Durant said. “And the rest of the guys rehabilitated their careers there. So me? S—, how are you going to rehabilitate me? What are you going to teach me? How can you alter something in my basketball life? I already have an MVP. I got it. scoring titles.
“As time went by, I started to realize that I’m different from the rest of the guys. It’s not a bad thing. Just my circumstances and how I got into the league. And on top of that, the media always looked like KD and the Warriors It is as if no one could [give] a total acceptance of me there. “
How the Warriors’ experience affected Kevin Durant’s decision
As Durant openly admitted, there were always issues regarding how he was seen as separate from the rest of the team because he was added to the roster after a record-setting 73-win regular season.
When he won his first championship in 2017, Durant believed that a title would change his position in the league and turn enemies into fans. That did not happen.
“He didn’t have a great summer,” said former Warriors consultant and current Nets coach Steve Nash. ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “He was looking for what all that meant. He thought that a championship would change everything, and found that it does not. He was not satisfied. He did not exercise as much as he normally does.”
In a February 2019 story for The Athletic, Ethan Strauss reported that Durant believed that defeating the LeBron James Cavaliers would force fans and analysts to come to a consensus and admit that he was the best player alive, even if they originally called him up for his “weak movement” to the Warriors. That did not happen.
Instead, there was no major reordering of the rankings, and a lot of credit could only be had for a dominant playoff run. KD, who was it “tired of being second” Back in 2013, he was still stuck there with a reputation, even in the final victory. He was still behind LeBron in the eyes of experts, basketball Twitter and, perhaps most importantly, Nike, which has employed Durant longer than any other team. Then the upcoming Finals played out the same way, with the same result, all while Warriors fans cheered louder for the smaller MVP baskets.
Strauss expanded Curry’s popularity and the tension it created in his book, “The Victory Machine: The Creation and Destruction of the Warriors Dynasty”:
[Durant] He accused me of “trying to irritate Steph’s fans.” He expressed that this was a constant theme in the Bay. All the local guys just wanted to kiss Steph’s ass at her expense. This was KD’s constant lament. He frequently fought in direct message conversations with Warriors fans on Twitter, frequently accusing them of favoring Steph at his expense. In one of those heralding exchanges, the WarriorsWorld account asked him if two-time MVP Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving was the better player. “I really have to sit down and analyze it,” Durant objected.
And then there was the argument with Green. During a November 2018 game between the Clippers and Warriors, Durant and Green exchanged words after Green pushed the ball to the ground in regulation final possession instead of passing Durant.
Green supposedly called Durant a “bitch” and was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
When ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith asked Durant about that incident in October 2019, Durant said it did influence his departure from the Warriors.
“I mean, your teammate talks to you that way, you think about it a bit,” Durant said. “But you know, like I said, we talked about it. But definitely. Sure. I’m not going to lie about it.”
“I felt like I needed a change. I felt like a lot of things at Golden State had loomed,” Durant continued. “I felt like that was going to be the end no matter what, especially for that group. Shaun Livingston was retiring. Andre Iguodala was getting old. Our contracts were going to stifle the team and put us in a hole to get other players.
“It was time for all of us to part ways.”
Kevin Durant recovers from injury, rediscovers his form with the Nets
Brooklyn agreed to a four-year, $ 164 million contract with Durant knowing that he would not be available for the 2019-20 season. During an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” in October 2019Durant made it clear that he expected to be out of the game all season, even if Brooklyn made the playoffs. He reiterated that post-game stance was temporarily suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is better for me to wait” Durant told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated in June 2020. “I don’t think I’m ready to play that kind of intensity right now in the next month. It gives me more time to prepare for next season and the rest of my career … putting pressure on past injuries, with I wanted to hurry up and go back, I saw my classmates having fun and I wanted to be out there.
“This time, I felt like I was more patient throughout the process mentally and I didn’t mentally rush, I didn’t get too excited when my team plays well or I do well. [rehab] day. I’m taking things second by second and trying to find the best in the long run. “
Durant officially made his debut for the Nets on December 22, 2020, scoring 22 points in a 125-99 victory over, of course, the Warriors. He struggled with injury problems during the 2020-21 campaign, missing nearly two months with a hamstring strain. He averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games.
But he took his game to another level in the playoffs. With Kyrie Irving sitting up and James Harden limping on one leg, Durant almost alone beat the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He posted 49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and two blocks in a Game 5 win. Oh, and he didn’t sit down for a single second.
He finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the Game 7 loss, but did not play all 48 minutes of that game because he was on the court for 48 minutes, plus five minutes of overtime.
Rather than take it easy after elimination, Durant committed himself to the USA team basketball program. He capped an incredible Olympic streak with 29 points on 9 of 18 shots against France in the gold medal game, finishing the tournament as USA Basketball’s all-time leader in points, free throws, and 3s.
Durant has carried that pace into the 2021-22 season, averaging a league-leading 29.6 points per game while shooting 58.6 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from 3-point range. It has kept the Nets near the top of the Eastern Conference standings despite a less-than-stellar start from Harden and the absence of Irving, who remains away from the team because he doesn’t abide by local health and safety protocols. He is arguably the best player on the planet and is firmly in the NBA MVP conversation.
Meanwhile, the Warriors look like a monster again in the Western Conference. Curry and Green have been fabulous, and the supporting cast is producing steadily. Thompson will return to the court at some point this season, which will make Golden State that much more dangerous.
Perhaps the rift between Durant and Warriors was inevitable, simply a part of an NBA in which the superstar movement has become common. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what it could have been.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.