Kevin Durant will feel love, appreciation of Warriors fans eventually

Kevin Durant will feel love, appreciation of Warriors fans eventually

When the Brooklyn Nets make their first appearance at the Chase Center, let’s hope it’s on Christmas Day not only for the theater, but also because by then Kevin Durant might be traveling and, moreover, comfortable with a 360-degree spin.

That would allow Durant, who will be six months into a post-surgery recovery/rehabilitation for his right Achilles’ tendon, to fully bask in the glow of Bay Area love and appreciation sure to wash over him at a level higher than at any time during his three seasons as a Warrior.

And it’s going to come, for Durant’s official departure on Sunday was not met with the burning of jerseys or profane outbursts, as was the case in July 2016 in Oklahoma City. That’s not how we do things around here, and it’s not the general response to his decision to move on.

KD can expect a voluminous roar and standing ovation lasting a minute or more, leaving him with a bigger grin than he flashed at any time in his third and final season in the Bay Area.

Rather than the warm welcome KD received in his Warriors debut and the liberal doses of respect and admiration coming his way at Oracle Arena, this will be a display of love and appreciation.

Don’t think Durant didn’t care about that. Or that it wouldn’t have touched him. It most assuredly will -- and would have even more had it come his way as a Warrior.

Last season, Durant never conveyed more delight than a few days before the Warriors would go to Seattle for a preseason game against the Kings on Oct. 5. Drafted into the NBA second overall by the SuperSonics in 2007, KD was giddy about returning to his first professional home. A few days before the trip, he spent nearly a half hour reminiscing about his rookie season, joy frolicking across his face as he talked about his first year, the beauty of the Seattle area and the passion of a fan base that adored its team -- and immediately adopted him.

“It was indescribable man,” Durant told us. “I can’t put into words the energy of the building and the amount of love. The support that was in the building was incredible.”

That night at KeyArena, Durant was introduced to wall-rattling cheers that reached a crescendo when he pulled off his Warriors warmup jacket to reveal a throwback jersey with the name of former Sonics great Shawn Kemp. After addressing a crowd practically eating from his hand, Durant went out and dominated the game.

More to the point, he dominated the night. His postgame session was all happy eyes and shiny teeth.

“I feel like everything was about me,” Durant said. “It was definitely weird. It’s only cool for tonight; I wouldn’t want that any other night. But it was definitely weird. It took me a while to refocus and focus on trying to get better and realizing that this was just a preseason game. Everybody was pumped up.”

No one on the court was more “pumped up” for this exhibition than Durant, who spoke of how good it was to reunite, if only briefly, with Seattle superfan Lorin “Big Lo” Sandretzky, who often met the Sonics at the airport when the team returned from road trips.

“It was so good to see him and give him a hug,” Durant said of Sandretzky. “He told me he missed me, and he loved me and that I’m one of the greatest ever. And I’m like, ‘Man, that’s how I feel about you.’”

Rarely and only fleetingly over the next eight months did KD convey such warmth of spirit. As productive as he was, and as much as his supported teammates as needed, his allegiance to the organization was professional but rarely enthusiastic.

Durant likely realized something before the season that was reinforced during it: No matter what he did, the passion coming his way would never reach the white-hot intensity of that directed toward Steph Curry. It’s natural, of course, given Steph’s status as the first and most essential pillar to what the Warriors had built.

Though two championships in two seasons -- being voted MVP of The Finals both times -- was enough for locals to express their respect and admiration for Durant’s feats, it did not lead to spine-tingling love and appreciation that might have convinced KD he had forged a deep and enduring connection with The Bay.

On the love and affection scale, both Seattle and OKC brought it stronger than The Bay – as might Brooklyn, still in the nascent stage of becoming a contender.

The Warriors realized back in October -- some say even before then -- that there was little chance KD would be back. Their reaction to that possibility was fair: He owes us nothing. We had him for three seasons during which we accomplished remarkable feats. Farewell, Kevin, and thanks for the memories.

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After spending three seasons talking and debating with KD on a wide range of non-basketball subjects, from race and politics to music and vocabulary and entrepreneurship -- as well as news-conference decorum -- I believe I have a pretty good idea of what was behind his decision.

Durant wants to collaborate with friends to build something in a place that longs for it. Curry knows the feeling, and that it’s the surest path to abiding love and appreciation.

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

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Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.

Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain


Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain

Add another one to the list.

After leaving Friday night’s loss to the Celtics with a thumb injury, an MRI has confirmed a right thumb sprain for All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell.

Russell will not travel with the team on the upcoming four-game road trip and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Golden State’s already lengthy injury report adds another name, as the team now stands with just nine healthy players as the team embarks for New Orleans on Saturday to kick off the trip.