Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant walked out of Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on crutches, his freshly torn Achilles secured in a boot, into an offseason of uncertainty.
The Warriors -- who were armed with a five-year, $221 million max contract offer -- offered familiar faces, championship fabric and the chance to open a brand-new building in San Francisco during his rehab. Durant's alternative route entailed a new team and $57 million less in his bank account, but with the chance to bet on himself alongside a roster in which he has a say.
Durant chose the latter Sunday, opting to sign with the Brooklyn Nets for a reported $164 million over four years. The decision will link him with All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who agreed to sign with the Nets hours earlier, and big man DeAndre Jordan, who reportedly will move over from the Knicks. Durant is close friends with both men.
Three years ago, Durant chose to head West, spurning Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to join a ready-made contender with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in Oakland. Now he chosen to help build a contender from scratch.
The Nets have made the second round of the playoffs only once in the past 12 seasons, and are known more for mortgaging their draft future for an aging core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams. Now, with Durant, Irving, Jordan and Chris Levert, Brooklyn could rule the Eastern Conference.
However, a caveat to those plans rests in Durant's right leg. His torn Achilles is expected to keep him out for the rest of next season and could have a lingering effect on the rest of his career. While the injury didn't scare teams -- including the Warriors -- from offering him a max deal under the collective bargaining agreement, a return from such an injury historically hasn't been fruitful for NBA players.
Speculation of Durant's departure started six months ago, during the Warriors' first media availability of the season, when he said he’d enter free agency. Speculation even fueled an on-court argument between Durant and Draymond Green, who reportedly told his teammate that the Warriors could continue their dynasty without him. Adding to the angst, many within the organization were resigned to the possibility Durant inevitably would leave following the season, perhaps to the Nets' Big Apple rivals, the New York Knicks. Additionally, a 24-hour news cycle brought intense scrutiny from TV personalities and writers alike.
“I never had this before,” Durant told NBC Sports Bay Area in April. “This is a totally new experience. I never had so many people that come to me and ask about where I should play. And there’s nothing wrong with it. But don’t get mad when I talk about it. Don’t get mad when you’re speculating, when you’re in your own head about something that I had said nothing about.”
“They need me,” Durant added. “If I wasn’t a free agent, none of this s--t would go on, right? None of this speculation about who I am, what’s wrong with my mental, why I’m miserable, why I ain’t happy with life. Nothing.”
Now Durant will take his talents to Brooklyn, but he leaves as one of the best players in Warriors history. His addition in 2016 brought the franchise two NBA titles in three seasons, building a dynasty in the process.
But with the Nets -- injuries and friends included -- Durant has the opportunity to build a champion on his terms.