Whenever the Warriors start putting up statues outside Chase Center, there must be one of Kevin Durant. And not because he stood on stage posing with a shovel during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Durant’s contribution to the success of the Warriors then can be quantified by dazzling postseason runs, two of which ended with championships, both of which he was named NBA Finals MVP. That’s enough to certify him as a Warriors legend for life.
Yet those trophies alone are not why it should be easy to spend this postseason enjoying KD, perhaps rooting for him, as he chases another ring in Brooklyn alongside three guys -- James Harden, Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving -- who rank among all-time Warriors villains.
Durant’s greatest contribution to the franchise, however, was agreeing to sign on.
NBA Finals closeout games aside, has Dub Nation ever experienced a more intoxicating day than July 4, 2016?
There was, to start, the fact that Kevin Durant, four-time scoring champion and the No. 1 free agent on the market, would join Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to form the core of the most indomitable offense the NBA has known.
“Unfair,” one longtime NBA talent evaluator told me that day. “The Warriors just signed the best basketball player in the world.”
At the heart of the joy permeating the Bay Area that day was the awareness of something bigger. KD’s choice signaled a seismic shift in the perception of a franchise once shunned by any high-profile player with options. The Warriors had arrived.
Golden State had, with a few brief exceptions, spent its post-merger (1976-2016) existence on the NBA C-list. The outback. They drafted, but couldn’t keep, Chris Webber. Drafted, but immediately traded the nightly highlight show that was Vince Carter. Almost acquired Kevin Garnett. Almost traded for Amare Stoudemire.
Free agents around the NBA considered the Bay Area a great place to visit but had no interest in becoming a Warrior. Acutely aware of this, Chris Mullin, upon becoming general manager in 2004, was so desperate to address this that he overpaid three-time champion Derek Fisher in a failed effort to put a serious stamp on what had been a joke of a franchise.
And after Mullin shortly thereafter traded for a star, Baron Davis, who became popular and wanted to stay, ownership stepped in and turned a flamethrower on the deal.
The history of the Warriors as an attraction was nonexistent, and Joe Lacob knew it. Upon becoming Warriors CEO in 2010, Lacob, formerly part-owner of the Celtics, addressed it at the highest levels. He pursued and acquired NBA legend Jerry West, off-court guru Rick Welts and signed first-time coach Mark Jackson largely because he was a brand name.
If having Curry on the roster was Step 1 toward respectability, hiring Jackson was Step 2. Getting Andre Iguodala from the Nuggets via sign-and-trade in the summer of 2013, after a stirring playoff appearance, was enough to accomplish that goal. Eyes around the league began turning toward The Bay.
Three years and two Finals runs later, when KD became a free agent and pulled into The Hamptons to meet with prospective employers, the Warriors had come far enough to earn a seat at the table they’d only dreamt about.
They, along with the incumbent Thunder and the now-relevant Clippers, were among the Big Boys: the Celtics and Spurs and Heat. And the Warriors emerged winners.
Getting Iguodala cracked open a door, but getting KD blasted the thing open.
Respected veteran David West had other options but accepted a veteran’s minimum contract to join the Warriors. So did veteran center Zaza Pachulia. Five years later, both relive their times and are pleased with their decisions.
Durant was pleased, too, even though things turned sour in Year 3. After eight seasons in Oklahoma City, he wanted a change and got it. Wanted to become acquainted with life atop the NBA and did. He is intelligent and curious, which makes him “complicated” in the eyes of some, but he also is a glorious basketball player and will forever cherish his time in The Bay.
The Warriors and their fans appreciate KD for his efforts over his three seasons. He deserves appreciation still, for he is the only player in these playoffs to have made a contribution to the best years of the Warriors.