Kevin Durant shook the NBA and torpedoed his own reputation by leaving the excellent Thunder for the 73-win Warriors in 2016. He won championships his first two seasons with Golden State, but despite that success, his fit sometimes looked awkward. Durant left the Warriors after just three seasons.
His decision to join Golden State remains a source of intrigue even five years later, even after Durant moved onto the Nets. It was just that impactful.
Maybe Durant’s choice can be traced back to leading Oklahoma City to the 2012 NBA Finals.
Durant on the “Million Dollaz Worth of Game” podcast:
That first experience of me going there, it was just like, “Nah, I need to experience that again. And I want to be on that stage again.” And that run that we went, from 2012 from the first round to the Finals, that was the most fun I had playing basketball. And I was like, “I need this experience again. I don’t care who it’s with. I want some dudes that want it, too. I just need to experience that again.” Because I felt more alive. I felt like this is what I should be doing on Earth at this point, is playing the game. So, when I experienced that run, I’m like, “I’m craving for that again.”
I seen that that’s a great team that wants to win, fun environment, great city. Oakland is like D.C. It felt like I was riding through Southeast.
The organization never been a winning organization. When I was in the league, nobody liked Golden State. So, it felt still like an underdog to me. Because I’m looking at the totality of the franchise. I ain’t looking at what happened these last five years. You’ve never been a perennial winner in the NBA – from the 50s on up. So, I’m like, “D***, that’s an underdog franchise to me. This feels good,” like, “S***, this feels like where I’m supposed to be.” It ain’t L.A. It ain’t New York. It feel like where I’m supposed to be. And I think they’re going to give me that experience that I want, that run of like, “S***, we’re about to go on a run trying to win 16 games.” I wanted that feeling again. We did that s*** three times. I was on that high three times. Man, s***, I don’t want to go nowhere else. I wanted to do nothing else in the NBA besides go on a run like that. We might not win it. But to know we can go on a run to be one of the last teams, that s*** is fun.
So did Durant sign with the Warriors because they were talented enough to assure him of deep playoff runs or because they were underdogs? It’s tough to accept both.
Durant has given multiple explanations for signing with Golden State. He tired of Oklahoma City’s style of play. He wanted to live in the Bay Area. There’s almost certainly truth in both.
But, at this point, Durant seemingly just wants to convince people he didn’t take a shortcut to a title.
It’s a tough sell, and I doubt this achieves that goal.
Yes, the Warriors were bad for a long time while Durant was coming up. Between 1995 and 2012, they made the playoffs only once. Their series victory was shocking.
But Golden State won the championship in 2015. The next season, the Warriors won 73 games and beat Durant’s Thunder in the Western Conference finals. In fact, Golden State was 2017 title favorite even before signing Durant. (To be fair, the chance of him signing was baked into those odds, but the Warriors were not widely assumed to land him).
No matter how Durant tries to frame it, Golden State was not an underdog.
He should just own it: He took the easier route to a ring.
That wasn’t necessarily his primary motivation for signing with the Warriors. Easier does not mean easy. Golden State’s titles with Durant were not inevitable. He stepped up to ensure they happened.
There’s plenty of room to credit Durant for his time with the Warriors without exaggerating.