OAKLAND — Three of Kevin Durant’s four best performances of the 2016-17 season came in the NBA Finals. The other was against his old team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, on Jan. 18.
So if you hear anyone questioning his mental fortitude at this point, you can safely assume that person isn’t a big fan of watching NBA games.
Durant joined the Golden State Warriors knowing it would make him a target for criticism. Still, the amount of ill will his decision generated shocked him. But he wanted to make a decision for himself.
And that move, leaving OKC for the Bay Area, would’ve been natural for anyone else in the world. But in the warped world of sports, it became Exhibit A of a weak mind.
Don’t get it twisted, KD cares what people think about him. Just not the people who think their assessment on his life matters.
“Proving haters wrong, that’s cool for me to talk about on Instagram or Twitter,” he said. “But you don’t concern me, I’m coming in and working every day, seeing how I can be the best teammate I can be.”
His statements after Game 5 of the Finals were indicative of his attitude all year: People can say what they’ll say.
What wasn’t clear at the time of his arrival was how well it would all work out for both sides. Outside noise be damned.
So-called Super Teams aren’t new to the NBA. In the last decade alone, there were the Ubuntu Boston Celtics and the Heatles. But none have meshed as well as the Super Villain Warriors.
That’s due to Durant’s selfless nature. Over his 10-year career, his defining character trait has yielded positive results (winning Finals MVP and then immediately reminding the world that basketball is a team game) and the negative (trying to convince the same world that “The Servant” is an acceptable nickname for a scoring champion).
Durant had to unlearn some bad habits picked up in OKC, where offense was more of a game of superstars alternating going one-on-one and less of a free-flowing system that relies upon ball movement.
Durant assimilated to Kerr’s system, something easier said than done when the player is making more than $21 million more than the coach annually, and the Dubs’ strategy worked exactly as it should. (So well, in fact, the most interesting question going forward is: How do they reasonably top this season?)
That’s not to say this team is 100 percent locked in for future success and there’s no strife on the horizon. This is professional sports after all. Injuries, salary demands, misfitting complementary players could all derail future success.
But as long as the Warriors run a healthy duo of Durant and Curry as pillars of the franchise, it’s hard to believe they won’t be competing for titles for years to come.
And the business side of this child’s game is going to come into play sooner than many fans would prefer as both KD and Steph are likely to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Of course, the burden of maintaining the team will fall on Durant’s thin shoulders.
He’ll have a choice of taking the absolute maximum he could or take a pay cut to ensure the team has cap flexibility to add bench contributors.
Naturally, Durant has already said he’s willing to sacrifice to keep the band together. So in many ways, this offseason is similar to last. The Warriors, on the verge of becoming potentially the greatest dynasty in the history of pro sports, have to count on the benevolence of a former MVP.
And if we were talking about any other player or team, serious doubts on that materializing would be perfectly valid. (Just ask Pat Riley how keeping LeBron James on the Miami Heat for the long term worked out.)
But this ain’t that.
“There was never any question in my mind that this was going to work,” Kerr said.
And he shouldn’t have any now.
Contact Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.
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