SAN FRANCISCO – The Brooklyn Nets are coming to the Bay Area on Thursday and, apparently, Kevin Durant is coming with them.
Coming back to the place where he earned two championship rings, two NBA Finals MVP awards and also built relationships that might last a lifetime.
Back to the place he opted to leave eight months ago, to the bewilderment of Warriors CEO Joe Lacob, to the general disappointment of Dub Nation -- and to the understanding of those who know why he left.
KD didn’t leave the Warriors after three mostly glorious seasons because he thought their best days were behind them. He didn’t leave because he lost respect for the franchise. He didn’t leave because Draymond Green tossed salt on him in ways familiar to those growing up in modest surroundings, where love can be as harsh as the back of a cold hand.
Durant left the Warriors because he felt, somewhere in his soul, it was time to go.
Because it was, simply, what he wanted.
The Warriors are what he wanted when he left Oklahoma City in 2016.
“That was my thinking going in before the year (2015-16),” Durant said last month on the “All the Smoke” podcast with former Warriors Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. “Obviously, I had a few teams, but the Warriors were a team I wanted to play for because of the movement they had, their passing, they led the league in assists ... Playing with that team, that's what I was thinking about."
The Nets are what KD wanted in 2019.
Despite the implication that his belief in coach Kenny Atkinson played a role in luring him to Brooklyn, KD wanted all of it. He wanted the big market that comes with playing in New York and the challenge of adopting a team on the rise and trying to push it to the top. He also wanted the East Coast, which has not been his home since he was a skinny teenager in Prince Georges County, Md., making his way through three high schools in Maryland and Virginia.
And make no mistake, Durant wanted to feel the warmth of his best friends in the league.
If LeBron James can join his best buddy, Dwyane Wade, in Miami, why can’t Durant become teammates with Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan? He’s tight with both, on and off the court. They’ve vacationed together.
“I had been having conversations with Kyrie for the past two years, not even about playing together,” Durant told Barnes and Jackson. “We didn't plan on playing together, we played each other in my second year with the Warriors. We had a mutual friend and we had some wine together, and we just bonded on just life in general and basketball in general. And that just formed over time. He didn't like where his situation was at and me neither in Golden State, and we were just like, 'Hey man, let's just see how this would work. Let's try it out.'"
When Durant says he enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City, I believe him. There were rough spots, no doubt, but the place made an impression on him nearly as much as he did on it.
Durant made it clear during the “All the Smoke” podcast that he didn’t leave the Warriors in search of a better franchise because he doesn’t know if that was possible.
Durant has not, to my recollection and research, criticized the Warriors. Even when others tried to blame them for the ruptured Achilles’ tendon he sustained in The Finals, KD carefully and forcefully explained that he knew what was at stake and was determined to take a risk.
“How can you blame them? Hell, no,” Durant told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. “I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and (director of sports medicine and performance) Rick (Celebrini) working out every day. Right when the series started, I targeted Game 5. Hell, nah. It just happened. "It’s basketball. S--t happens. Nobody was responsible for it. It was just the game. We just need to move on from that s--t because I’m going to be back playing.”
He won’t be playing Thursday night, but he is in the advanced stage of rehabilitation. But, having been around KD for three years, I suspect he has no regrets. That’s not how he rolls.