"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
OAKLAND -- 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.
“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.
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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.