Kevin Durant fortified a super team and torpedoed his own reputation in one fell swoop.
Why did he leave the Thunder for the Warriors, who had just beaten Oklahoma City in the 2016 playoffs?
Durant on All The Smoke:
The Warriors were so intriguing, because I always – with OKC, I played with a lot of athletes. I didn’t play with a lot of skill guys, not like shooters, ball-handlers. So, after a while, my game started to grow. I was like, I need a change. This was before the season even started. You know what I mean? It was like, I’m going to play out my last season as hard as I can. And I’m not telling anybody I want to leave. I’m not packing in. I’m trying to win as much as we can and try to end this out right. That was my thinking going in before the year.
And obviously I had a few teams, but the Warriors was a team I wanted to play for, because the movement they had, the passing. They led the league in assists. When Scott Brooks was my coach, that’s all we talked about, is wanting to lead the league in assists. And so playing with that team, that’s what I was thinking about.
So, when we got to the playoffs, it was just like, let’s see what happens.
Then, we get to the Warriors. It’s just a whole different series. You know they’re going to sell out to stop me. I mean, they’re going to leave Andre Roberson.
He was great for our team in that series, because he can guard. But he knew that he wasn’t going to help us shoot 3s. And everybody in the world knew that. And it’s easy for a team to guard us when we’ve got guys that they’re not going to respect you from 3. Know what I’m saying?
So, I was tired of playing in that system. I was tired of having to be the only guy that can make 3s, make jump shots, consistently make them.
So, my mind was already thinking about, how can I develop my game? More so than Warriors vs. Thunder, that rivalry. Even if that was a rivalry, I didn’t give a f—. I just wanted to keep developing my game. And on top of that, we only played them one time in the playoffs. So, I didn’t really feel like a genuine deep hatred for the Warriors. You know what I’m saying? It was just like they’re a new fresh team. They’re on the rise. I f— with them. And I’m going to play hard against them. I know some of their players. It is what it is.
The Warriors, they was just like another team to me. So, me going there and playing for them, it didn’t matter if we would’ve won or lost the series. I wanted to play there and live in the Bay.
Durant is right. For a championship contender, the Thunder were short on other players who shot dependably from the perimeter. Russell Westbrook in particular received blame for hogging the ball and clogging spacing.
But the situation was more complex.
Durant was skilled enough to shoot efficiently against even elite defenses. Westbrook had the supreme athleticism to attack through even tight spaces. (Durant absolved Westbrook in third-person tweets that Durant said were sent deliberately.)
The individual capabilities of those two superstars allowed Oklahoma City to surround them with role players who’d do dirty work like defending, rebounding and screening. The result: An elite team.
The Thunder pushed Golden State harder than anyone had all season. Even the Cavaliers, who won the championship, didn’t outscore the Warriors by as much in the NBA Finals as Oklahoma City outscored the Warriors by in the Western Conference finals.
Except, it was apparently even more complex, because Durant didn’t like the Thunder’s style of play. That matters, too. It’s important to keep a superstar happy entering free agency.
Durant said he wouldn’t have signed with the Warriors if they won the 2016 title. This doesn’t directly contradict that. But Durant is now insinuating postseason results didn’t affect his thinking.
I believe Durant wanted to win with Oklahoma City. But given… Durant now admits he began considering leaving before his final season there… Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout the season (bothering Thunder players)… Durant later revealed he decided to leave Golden State midway through his final season there… it’s fair to question Durant’s commitment to the 2015-16 Thunder. I don’t blame him for considering a life-altering move in advance. That’s totally natural. But compartmentalizing, staying focused on winning amid a wandering eye, can be difficult.
Durant got what he thought he wanted with the Warriors, winning two championships and playing on a team that emphasized ball and player movement.
But as Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, Durant got restless. Durant, who has always revered high-level individual scoring, wanted to isolate more. So, he left the Warriors for the Nets.