Kevin Durant’s time with Warriors was extraordinary and extraordinarily short
We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.
Those are the words, give or take, reportedly uttered by Draymond Green toward Kevin Durant during their November in-game argument. It’s the sentiment that hung over Durant’s entire Warriors tenure.
Durant was seen as the superfluous superstar, an unnecessary addition to a 73-win NBA Finals team. Never mind that Durant immediately asserted himself as more than just along for the ride. Never mind that that Golden State crumbled in the Finals before he arrived and crumbled in this year’s Finals mostly without him. So many people refused to respect Durant as a competitor after he left the Thunder for a team that just beat them in the playoffs. Even Durant admitted winning a championship didn’t fill the void he thought it would.
He has a chance to win a more meaningful title now. By signing with the Nets, even with Kyrie Irving joining him, Durant becomes an undisputed team leader.
To change the paradigm, Durant had to take a drastic step – ending a dynasty.
Surely, Durant chose the Warriors for numerous reasons. But it’s totally fair to say he took the easy path to a ring. That might not have been his intention, but it’s undeniably the result of his decision. He could not have joined a better team in 2016 free agency. Golden State was loaded – Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and then Durant.
Success for Durant and the Warriors followed, both…
Individual: All-NBA first team, two All-NBA seconds teams, three All-Star selections, two NBA Finals MVPs
Team: Two championships, three conference titles, 182-64 regular-season record (74%), 46-14 postseason record (77%)
Durant’s torn Achilles threw chaos into the 2020 title chase, but if he stayed in Golden State, the Warriors would have been early favorites for 2021 and beyond. Heck, they still would have had a fighting chance next season on the off chance Durant returns and produces in the playoffs.
On paper, this was a fairytale situation. In his three years with Golden State, Durant averaged 11.3 win shares per season. When a player is producing like that, he and the team almost always keep it going longer.
Here are the most win shares per season by a player in a tenure with a team that lasted three or fewer seasons:
Most of the players above Durant had their tenures end under extreme circumstances. After spending his first two NBA season with the Indianapolis Olympians, Alex Groza got banned for a point-shaving scandal from his time at Kentucky. Rick Barry left the San Francisco Warriors in a salary dispute to join the ABA. (Anthony Mason had a more garden-variety situation, the 2001 Heat losing several key contributors – including Mason coming off a career year – amid luxury-tax concerns.)
Considering Durant’s team success in Golden State, this breakup is unprecedented in league history.
None of this is to say Durant erred by leaving for Brooklyn. As I argued when he originally signed with the Warriors, he earned having teams – even teams that were already strong championship contenders – being willing to do whatever it took to get him. Likewise, he earned a wide-open set of options in 2019 free agency. He is an elite job candidate who can reap the rewards of that status.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of just how unconventional it is for a player to leave so quickly while both he and his team were accomplishing so much.