Warriors

If Durant really did spurn LeBron, the Warriors are better off than they could have ever imagined

If Durant really did spurn LeBron, the Warriors are better off than they could have ever imagined

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.

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson struggling in trying times for Warriors

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson struggling in trying times for Warriors

SAN ANTONIO -- The Warriors have never needed Kevin Durant more than they do now, despite what Draymond Green was quoted as saying last Monday.

They need Klay Thompson to be better, too, even if Thompson seems unconcerned about his offensive inefficiency.

With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out of the lineup, these are the times when the remaining All-Stars are supposed to take over. Durant and Thompson are the temporary touchstones, leading the way for the rest of the roster.

Instead, Durant and Thompson have been at their worst, propped up by a supporting cast that has done a respectable job.

During a week when the Warriors lost four of five games, including a 104-92 defeat to the Spurs on Sunday, Durant and Thompson can’t seem to find the hoop.

[RELATED: Warriors taste 'real NBA' in Draymond Green-Kevin Durant beef aftermath]

“They’re both trying desperately to help us get going,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We rely on them pretty heavily for scoring, obviously, particularly with Steph out.

“But we’ve got to get back to our team identity, which is great ball movement, really good defense and playing off of misses. Getting out in transition and running, moving the ball and getting great shots. It’s easier said than done, but it’s something we’ve done for many years.

Durant’s last five games on offense: 39.6 percent (44-of-111) from the field, including 14.3 percent (3-of-21) beyond the arc. For the first time in his Warriors career, he shot below 50 percent in five consecutive games.

Thompson’s last five games on offense: 39.7 percent (51-of-116) from the field, including 26 percent (13-of-50) from deep. He has followed four games in which he seems to have found a rhythm -- 54.8 percent overall, 47.8 percent from deep -- with five in which he’s missing even when getting the best looks.

Durant and Thompson on Sunday combined for 51 points -- on 19-of-51 shooting.

“I thought we had some solid looks,” said Durant, who clearly seems bothered by the disruptive events of the week. “We just missed tonight.”

Thompson shrugged off the idea that either man reduces his shooting volume.

“You do the same thing,” he said when asked about it. “You take 51 shots on Wednesday and hope you make 35 of them instead of whatever we made.

“It’s that simple. This isn’t rocket science.”

[RELATED: What we learned in 104-92 road loss to Spurs]

Curry’s absence -- and the constant threat of him scoring from anywhere inside 35 feet -- allows defenses to play tighter on Durant and Thompson. They end up shooting quicker shots, or rushing them, sometimes against contesting defenders.

The Warriors are operating at a higher frequency of possessions with fewer than two passes. Durant believes there is a reason.

“We’re trying to just get good looks,” he said. “I know Warriors basketball is five or six or seven passes in a possession. But we’re not going to get that at this point. It we’re throwing it five or six times, it’s going to end up in a guy’s hands (and he’s) trying to give it back to somebody else.

“So we don’t want to make passes just to make passes, just because it will look good on the stat sheet. We’re trying to find a good shot every time down. Sometimes it might be a quick shot.”

Kerr, naturally, wants more ball movement, under the assumption that it would create easier shots.

“Our team the last few years has been one of the most efficient teams in the history of the league,” Kerr said. “That’s not from going one-on-one. That’s from sharing the ball, the ball moving, everybody trusting each other.

“I admire those guys, trying to get us going. But we’ve got to rely on the whole group. And compete together. That’s extremely rare to see Klay and KD both have tough nights. It’s not going to happen forever.”

If it seems Kerr and Durant are offering conflicting styles, they are, and not for the first time.

Durant is comfortable leaning on pick-and-roll offense. It’s where, as a practically impossible matchup, he can punish defenses. It’s what he feels. Kerr wants the best possible shot, because that’s how a coach thinks.

Truth is, those easier shots are much harder to come by when Curry is not available.

“When Steph’s out of the lineup, the same with Draymond, the ball doesn’t move as much because me and Kevin have to take ownership in scoring,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to do a better job of trusting each other. That’s on me. Move the ball. Be patient.”

Until Durant and Thompson find their offense, no matter how, the Warriors will have a tough time beating even the worst of teams. The other option is waiting for Curry, which in the interim doesn’t help them at all.

Warriors taste 'real NBA' in Draymond Green-Kevin Durant beef aftermath

Warriors taste 'real NBA' in Draymond Green-Kevin Durant beef aftermath

SAN ANTONIO -- It’s a week that will stay with the Warriors for the remainder of this season and for the rest of their careers, following them into retirement.

There was robust discord between two All-Stars, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, that continues to resonate. There was the team leader, Stephen Curry, out of the lineup with an injury but willing to accompany the team on a four-day road trip partly in hopes of restoring a semblance of unity, if not serenity.

There was the designated shooter, Klay Thompson, less than eight months from away free agency, searching for but not finding his touch.

And there were the losses, three in a row, resulting in the team’s first 0-3 road trip since Steve Kerr took over in 2014.

Here is a chronology of the week that was:

MONDAY

The Warriors play the Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Durant and Thompson are carrying the offense. Green returns after a two-game absence due to a sprained toe. For more than 46 minutes, the Warriors never lead. Montrezl Harrell, LA’s energetic reserve big man, is bossing the paint.

Fourth quarter. The Warriors summon a rally. Down 14 with 6:36 to play, they go on a 19-5 run, tying the game at 106-106 on a Thompson 3-pointer with 1:27 to play.

It's the final 5.6 seconds. Green grabs a rebound with 5.6 seconds on the clock with a chance to win the game. Durant makes an emphatic plea for the ball. Green ignores it. He dribbles into a lost possession, leading to overtime.

Then the dam bursts. Durant snaps at Green. Green snaps back, vociferously and personally. The Warriors come out for overtime and Durant fouls out 74 seconds later. The Warriors run dry and lose by five. The quarrel, with teammates involved, restarts in the locker room.

The flight home is uneasy. Everybody feels the chill. The night is long for every member of the team.

TUESDAY

The Warriors don’t practice before the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Oracle Arena. The majority opinion among players and coaches is that Green’s castigation was out of line. Kerr and general manager Bob Myers meet to discuss the beef, and decide to suspend Green one game “for conduct detrimental to the team.” Based on Green’s salary, it’s a $120,000 penalty.

The Warriors, trailing at the half, ride a strong third quarter to beat the rebuilding Hawks by seven. Green watches from home, irritated but icing his toe. Durant enters the postgame interview room, his face stony, and briefly addresses the subject. He is asked if he thinks the strife could possibly make the team stronger.

“Who knows,” he replies dryly. “We’ll see.”

WEDNESDAY

The Warriors fly to Houston, their first trip there since the Western Conference Finals last May. Green is on the trip. So is Curry, who was not present for the blowup in Los Angeles. Kerr speaks with Green and Durant. The team goes to dinner at a steak house near the hotel. Nobody fights in public.

THURSDAY

The Warriors face the Rockets at Toyota Center. Seven hours before tipoff, Green meets with media, issues a statement on the flap with Durant but takes no questions on it. He says it’s time to move forward.

Golden State takes the floor that night, and get crushed by 21. Green goes scoreless. Durant shoots 6-of-15, Thompson 5-of-16.

Durant is asked about the state his relationship with Green, and says: “Don’t ask me about that again.”

The Warriors board a late-night flight to Dallas.

FRIDAY

The team goes through a light practice without known incident. Green’s sore toe flares up, so Warriors declare him out for the game Saturday in Dallas. 

With Green joining Alfonzo McKinnie and Curry on the sideline, the Warriors summon wing Damion Lee and power forward Marcus Derrickson from the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

SATURDAY

The Warriors conduct morning shootaround at American Airlines Arena in Dallas. Kerr discusses the state of the team, reflects on his 15-year career and says all teams go through difficult periods and that it’s normal. Curry does light drills with personal coach Bruce Fraser. The Warriors are hopeful their point guard, healing from a groin injury, can return next week. They need him. Badly.

Curry addresses media before tipoff against the Mavericks. He says he’s progressing well and that he’s “proud” of the way the team is handling the ongoing adversity. He insists that nothing that happens in November, no matter how it looks, is going to derail this team from a deep postseason run that concludes in the NBA Finals.

The Warriors put forth enough effort to hang around, but fade in the fourth quarter and take a three-point loss to the Mavericks. Thompson shoots 9-of-24 and Durant goes 11-of-24. Curry and Green watch from the bench.

Durant sighs when asked about the vibe of the team, and replies: “Are we going to talk about this the whole year?”

SUNDAY

The Warriors arrive at their hotel in San Antonio around 2 a.m. They sleep in. They don’t have a shootaround; they never do on the second night of a back-to-back set. They bus to AT&T Center to face the once fabulous, but now ordinary, Spurs.

The Warriors never lead by more than one point but trail by as much as 18. They look frazzled, at times lost. Durant shoots 8-of-25. Thompson shoots 11-of-26. The Warriors dig down for a fourth-quarter rally, getting within one (91-90) with 3:38 remaining. The Spurs close it with a 13-2 run. The Warriors lose 104-92.

Kerr doesn't run from a question asking if this is his toughest stretch as a coach. 

“Oh, yeah. But I’ve had a dream run for four-and-a-half years,” he says. “We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons. So, yeah, of course, this is the toughest stretch we’ve been in.

“This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. So now we’re faced with real adversity. We’ve got to get out of it ourselves.”