HOUSTON -- The Warriors have spent the past few weeks throwing every rose petal they can find at the feet of Kevin Durant. They know he sees them. They don’t know if he bothers to sniff them. They don’t know if their effort translates to influence.
The educated guess is it doesn’t.
It wasn’t influencing Durant’s free agency before the Squabble at Staples, and it most certainly won’t now that Draymond Green has set fire to those rose petals.
Durant is past flattery from those outside the fraternity of NBA players and those he loves and respects outside of basketball. Sure, he embraced adulation back in July 2016, when he set up camp in The Hamptons and invited a procession of visitors to bring their most persuasive tales. At that time, he wanted to feel the power of having mountains come to Muhammad.
He neither wants it nor needs it next time around, in 2019. Durant’s next move will be much less about what anyone says and much more about what he wants to do.
He’ll be looking for something deeper and more significant than being reminded of his greatness or even winning basketball games. He’ll know with profound certainty that the face of a friend can change on a whim if a grown man exercises his freedom.
Durant experienced that process with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. He’s going through Round 2 with Green. Westbrook’s usage of “cupcake” to describe Durant was a euphemism for “soft.” Green doesn’t do euphemisms. He, according to multiple sources, called Durant a “bitch.” Same thing.
Westbrook unloaded because Durant left. Green unloaded because he might leave. So once again, Durant is dealing with friend-enemy-friend-enemy stuff generally limited to teenagers with raging hormones. This is not a game he cares to play.
Here is where we point out Durant has never once criticized Westbrook’s me-first tendencies, even as others have indicated it was among the factors that drove Durant from the Thunder. Durant didn’t indulge in that narrative even though by most accounts it was significant.
Durant left OKC less because he was looking for something better than because he was seeking something more. He came to the Warriors hoping to play entertaining and intelligent basketball with teammates he enjoyed, in a region that offered something more. This was a test of himself, to see if the experience would be as good as he imagined. And at times, it has been.
Other times, it has not been. Durant went through some unhappy moments last spring, most visible during the Western Conference finals against the Rockets. Coach Steve Kerr’s words of advice came across to some as a critique. Green, always vocal, was harshly reminding Durant that he had resorted to playing the kind of isolation basketball the Warriors would rather avoid.
Green wasn’t wrong. The Rockets did a masterful job jamming the offensive circuits of the Warriors that Durant reverted to the one-on-one ball that defined much of his time in OKC. He was doing something he longed to leave behind.
Now this. Now Green, who initially recruited Durant to the Warriors, is telling Durant that he’s soft and, according to sources, expendable.
Durant admits he mishandled his departure from OKC. He bypassed the courtesy of contacting Westbrook, to whom he had been close. For failing to depart with personal decorum, Durant is regretful.
Durant now is vilified every time the Warriors play the Thunder in Oklahoma. The fans who adored him turned on him because, again, he exercised his freedom, his right to choose a different employer.
More than two years later, Durant still tends to personal projects in OKC. He left the place but never stopped supporting it.
If Durant leaves the Warriors, and it’s practically expected, he’ll still have Bay Area connections. And fans won’t feel as abandoned as those in Oklahoma.
For Warriors fans knew from the moment Durant signed on that he was a luxury. The Warriors were great before he arrived, but his presence invited the probability of a dynasty. This was Stephen Curry’s team, for sure, but Durant was coming in as the ultimate collaborator.
And now, because Durant was so emphatic about wanting the ball in the final seconds of a game in November, there’s a fracture within. Durant clapped and shouted for the ball. Green clapped back, in a manner of speaking, and went nuclear.
Green says he’s going be the occasionally caustic vocal presence he’s always been, that if Durant were to leave, well, they’ve made some history.
Durant says he does not ever want to be asked about his relationship with Green, wanting to cope with that no more than addressing his relationship with Westbrook.
Durant did not come to the Warriors for the drama. He got a load of grief and condemnation for leaving the Thunder, got another load for joining the Warriors.
And now, even as an ultra-successful Warrior, he’s getting it from a teammate?
Durant, even as Warriors executives drop rose petals before him in an attempt to cajole, cannot possibly be content with that.