It wasn’t long ago that the Warriors aspired to be the Spurs, playoff regulars with a regal culture and an unshakeable core, consistently contending for championships.
It’s now apparent, as Kawhi Leonard tries to strong-arm his way out of San Antonio, that the Warriors’ potential is higher than the Spurs ever was.
The latest indicator is Kevin Durant reportedly declining an invitation to join LeBron James in Los Angeles, playing for the Lakers.
The notion that LeBron attempted to recruit KD, reported by ESPN, is entirely conceivable. Superstars communicate with superstars, and no player in the NBA values his clout more than James.
The notion that Durant, who has a solid relationship with James, could be recruited at this time is utterly inconceivable.
KD is not leaving the Warriors for the Lakers, even if LeBron is offering partnership as the lure.
Let that sink in for a moment. Not the part about LeBron being the lure but the part about not leaving the Warriors for the Lakers.
If the Spurs were the league’s royal standard, the Lakers were its dreamiest team, winning titles at an astonishing clip while also boasting more delightful fringe benefits than any franchise in the league. For most of the last half century, playing for the Lakers in Los Angeles was the player’s paradise.
Playing for the Warriors was, meanwhile, pure punishment, the league’s version of toiling in a dark, damp closet. The Warriors were where players landed, with a thud, when “real” teams had no interest.
Nobody, including a fresh-faced college kid named, Stephen Curry, wanted to come to the Warriors.
And now nobody, including an older and more mature Curry, wants to leave.
Though Durant will become a free agent this weekend, he is ready to decline overtures from LeBron or anybody else that comes calling. We know this not only because he has consistently stated his intention to return but also because of what he has said over the past 18 months.
Durant has told us on several occasions, in several ways, that the Warriors feel like the right place for anybody who cares about winning and having fun and being free to be who they are. It is, in short, a community, a place where all doors are open, all ears are listening and all rooms are warm.
That’s where the Warriors, under general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr, deviate from the Spurs model.
The Spurs are run like a high-level government agency. They have policies and all is good as as long as everybody follows them. Gregg Popovich is a good man and a great coach, but at the root of his steely leadership is a militaristic element. He’s the unquestioned general, with leaders acting as lieutenants.
There is, above all, a conformity that requires discipline and devotion. Thick skin, too. Not everybody is cut out for the Spurs Way. Jonathon Simmons was not, and it seems Leonard has had enough.
The Warriors have been there, but for different reasons. The list of those who at one point or another wanted out -- all under previous regimes -- includes Chris Webber, Larry Hughes, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis.
And now the Warriors are the place where players want to be. Nick Young wanted to join. Jamal Crawford would love to join. JaVale McGee says he wants to come back. The Warriors know they’ll be giving out a lot of minimum contracts, and they also know there will be players eager to take it.
This culture, the one that has sold Durant, is largely a product of Kerr’s ability to read a room, his understanding the need for joy and his willingness to engage in respectful dialogue with every player and coach.
Though the Warriors must remain among the elite for many years before they can claim to stand beside the Spurs, winning three championships in four years has put them ahead of San Antonio’s pace.
If a Warriors superstar is willing to turn his back on a chance to join another superstar with the Lakers, the Warriors are better off than even they could have imagined.
If you’re the Warriors, you welcome a Lakers revival. You crave it because you’re equipped to compete. And because it’s your chance to prove there’s a new paradise in the NBA.