NBA free agency: Can Kevin Durant find better situation than Warriors?


NBA free agency: Can Kevin Durant find better situation than Warriors?

"I grew up in the NBA in a culture that taught professionalism. Things like being on time, putting in hard work, being first in the gym and the last to leave, watching film at home -- all the stuff that grows you into a player. That's what young players need when they come into the league. They need those stern teachings to learn how to be an NBA player. Here . . . it just feels like this is where you go when you graduate from that." – Kevin Durant, after one season as a member of the Warriors

This was a relaxed Kevin Durant, in an exclusive interview, expressing serene enjoyment with his new team and his new town.

This also was two years ago.

Has Durant’s view of the Warriors changed? And if so, was it before or after rupturing his right Achilles’ tendon two weeks ago in Toronto?

In some ways, KD has changed. He knows more about himself and the franchise than he did in May 2017, 11 months after joining the Warriors. He has experienced the highs of back-to-back championships and being voted MVP of both Finals and the low of a vociferous squabble with a teammate during a game. He has explored communities on both sides of the Bay.

Still, it’s not uncommon for a relationship to feel fresh and blissful after one year, but static and unsatisfying after three.

Expected to become an unrestricted free agent Sunday, Durant has evolved, as he should. Personal growth is, after all, a natural part of the aging process.

Still, it can’t be easy to for him to find a logical answer to this question: Why would I leave?

The Warriors, however, seem pretty much everything they were when Durant arrived. Though there have been substantive changes in the front office -- Jerry West and Travls Schlenk departed for new roles with different teams -- it’s the same ownership, same coaching staff, same principles and the same core at the center of the team.

Which is, according to veterans on the team that have been employed by multiple franchises, something to be cherished.

When the venerable show “60 Minutes” came to Oakland in February to profile the Warriors, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston both described the franchise as a version of NBA paradise.

“If somebody else is recruiting me, look man, this has got to be the template,” Iguodala, who previously has played for franchises on Philadelphia and Denver, told the newsmagazine.

“This is something special,” said Livingston, who has played for nine other franchises. “We talk about that word 'present.' Enjoy it. Enjoy it while it lasts. Because if you do go to another organization, another team, chances are it’s going to be different.”

Neither has changed his mind.

“Mostly, it’s about being in a winning culture,” Livingston recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. “When we say culture, we’re talking about the people. Being around winners on and off the court, having a group that is as competitive as hell, as talented as hell, but also realizing there are good, genuine people throughout the entire organization.

“Me going through 10 organizations, I’ve seen a few things. I’ve seen highs and lows, and nothing has been better than this.”

Winning is a major factor, but hardly the only one. Ownership consistently invests in the product. There is a sense of freedom and personal space. Everybody not only is given a voice but encouraged to use it in any context, from a somber team meeting to which music is played during workouts. There is the human interaction with president/general manager Bob Myers and the positivity that flows down from coach Steve Kerr and team touchstone Stephen Curry.

“Having someone like Steph, it sets a solid foundation,” Iguodala told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Then you have someone like Klay (Thompson), who has the perfect balance and is on the other end of the spectrum from Draymond (Green). Personalities play a big role, and I think the GM and owners understand that.”

Some of these elements conspired to influence Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors upon entering free agency in July 2016. When the Warriors sent an eight-man delegation to The Hamptons to meet with Durant and his representatives, the right questions were asked, and the right answers were given.

The Warriors already had transformed themselves, going from tight-fisted ownership with limited aspirations to a new group that pulled the Warriors out of the NBA wilderness and into a coveted destination. Corners would not be cut, and they certainly weren’t after KD arrived.

Still aren’t.

“Their stance has been that way from Day 1,” Livingston said of the group led by CEO Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. “When they came in and bought the team, they bought it at a record price ($450 million). So, it wasn’t about the money. It was about owning the team. From there, it was about being competitive and being successful. That’s never really fluctuated. That’s who those guys are.

“Going on the road and having dinners every night is a bonding experience. But it costs a lot of money. We’re not going to McDonald’s. We’re not eating off the dollar menu. It takes commitment from those guys. I’m sure they get the bills, just like we get our bills. So far, it hasn’t mattered.”

The comforts extend beyond the players, as player development coach Willie Green said prior to leaving the Warriors for a lead assistant role with the Phoenix Suns.

“It’s the people, the character that they bring into the organization,” Green, who played for five different franchises, told NBC Sports Bay Area. “From top to bottom, they try to do a good job of bringing in high-character guys, whether it’s training staff, front office or players.

“Secondly, we try to do everything first class. That’s something players appreciate. They appreciate an organization that will go out of its way to make families feel welcome. They go above and beyond to make sure guys have everything they need to succeed on the floor.

“And third, it’s a beautiful place to live and play in.”

Green left the Warriors because he received a promotion and a significant raise. Lead assistant Mike Brown has been contacted by other teams but says he’s “in no hurry” to leave; he recently moved from Oakland to San Francisco. The Lakers last week were granted permission to interview co-lead assistant Ron Adams, who surely thanked them before stating his desire to stay put.

Amid conflicting reports about Durant’s feelings toward the organization after sustaining his injury, the Warriors stated that he was cleared to return for Game 5 of The Finals only after consulting with a group of doctors -- including at least one selected by Team Durant -- as well as the team’s front office and Durant’s agent/business partner Rich Kleiman.

[RELATED: Predicting where KD, other stars will sign in free agency]

Recuperating from surgery that is expected to sideline him next season, Durant will make the decision he believes is best. Speculation is centered on the Knicks, Nets and Clippers, as well as the Warriors. KD is a curious sort, an adventurer, so the unknown always has some appeal.

He knows what the Warriors have to offer, though, and realizes that any competing franchise has a high bar to reach, much less clear.

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 108-100 loss to depleted Pelicans


Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 108-100 loss to depleted Pelicans


Coming into town to face an injury-depleted team on the second night of a back-to-back set, the Warriors appeared to be in reasonably good position win their third game of the season.

Instead, they took their 12th defeat – and seventh in a row.

The Warriors, nearly as diminished by injuries, took a tip-to-buzzer 108-100 loss to the Pelicans on Sunday night at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Four players scored in double figures, led by Eric Paschall’s game-high 30 points, but the Warriors (2-12) were outrebounded and outshot, particularly from the 3-point line by the Pelicans (3-10).

Here are three takeaways from a defeat that saddled the Warriors with their longest losing streak since they dropped eight straight in April 2012:

Defense rests, is burned by triples

The Warriors displayed signs of coming out of their defensive malaise in taking the Celtics down to the wire two nights ago. Outrebounding Boston allowed them to better set up their defense, and the results were encouraging.

That level of defensive aggression and execution didn’t make the trip to New Orleans.

The Warriors were particularly vulnerable defending the 3-point arc.

The Pelicans, who entered as the fifth-best 3-point shooting team the league, took advantage, launching at will. They drained nine triples in the first half, as JJ Redick, one of the more proficient deep shooters in NBA history and undoubtedly on the scouting report, repeatedly got open looks and buried five 3-balls before halftime. He scored a team-high 26 points.

That New Orleans shot 39.1 percent (18-of-46) from deep is clear evidence that any defensive progress displayed by the Warriors two days earlier against a quality opponent went into deep regression against an inferior team.

More points for Paschall

With D’Angelo Russell out of the lineup, the Warriors have an urgent need for scoring. Enter Eric Paschall.

On a night when offense was hard to come by, Paschall kept the Warriors in the game early, with 24 points through the first three quarters, when no other Warrior had more than 11.

Operating both inside and outside, Paschall’s 30 points came on 10-of-17 shooting, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He also was 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Playing 35 minutes, he also grabbed seven rebounds.

Paschall now has two games with at least 30 points, four with at least 20 and nine in which he scored in double figures.

The powerfully built rookie is, at this point, the team’s most effective scorer. In effect, he has become the Warriors’ go-to guy.

[RELATED: Draymond, Bowman to take over while Russell is out]

Waiting for Jordan

The Warriors drafted Jordan Poole in the first round June believing he had the goods to become their next great deep shooter. His work in the preseason did little to argue against that.

But it’s not happening in the regular season, and this night was the latest in an ever-extending line of futile performances.

Coming off the bench for the second consecutive game, Poole was scoreless over 23 minutes, with 0-of-7 shooting from the field, including 0-of-3 from beyond the arc.

If ever there was a game when his scoring touch was desperately needed – and surely would have made a difference – this was it.

Warriors to use Ky Bowman, Draymond Green in D'Angelo Russell's place

Warriors to use Ky Bowman, Draymond Green in D'Angelo Russell's place

The Warriors got some bad news when D'Angelo Russell's MRI confirmed a sprained right thumb that will keep him out of the lineup for at least two weeks, but their coach actually was a bit relieved.

"I was concerned that it was going to be worse," Steve Kerr told the media Saturday, "so a couple weeks, you know, we can handle. If this had been something more severe, we would have been in some real trouble. So, we'll deal with it and I'm glad it's not worse. We look forward to getting him back, but in the meantime, we've got four games on the road. We've got to figure out a way to hold down the fort."

Golden State will play the first of those four consecutive road games Sunday in New Orleans against the short-handed Pelicans, and Kerr has a plan for how the Warriors will fill the point guard spot in Russell's absence.

"Draymond [Green] will play a lot of point, and Ky [Bowman] will have the ball in his hands quite a bit," Kerr said. "We're down to nine players, and really only two real guards I would say, with Jordan [Poole] and Ky. So our wings are going to have to handle the ball quite a bit, and Draymond is really good in a facilitating role anyway, so Draymond will handle the ball quite a bit."

Bowman, who is on a two-way contract, didn't seem phased by the promotion.

"I just go out there and play my role," Bowman said. "That's scoring, that's defense ... just play my role."

The Warriors didn't expect to rely on Bowman as much as they have in the early part of the season, but they've had to out of necessity with the injuries to Russell, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Despite being a consistent member of the rotation, he conceded that people ask him more about his teammates than his own experience.

"What are the players like, really," Bowman replied when questioned as to what fans ask him. "What is Draymond like. That's what everybody wants to know."

[RELATED: Slew of Warriors’ injuries hinders young core’s development]

Perhaps they'll have some different questions for him over the next couple weeks.