Kevin Durant has agreed to sign with the Golden State Warriors, making a team that won an NBA-record 73 games last season even better and devastating their top rival in the process. He announced the news on The Players Tribune.
Durant will sign a two-year, $54.3 million contract with a player option after the first year, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. That’ll allow him to make more money by signing a long-term deal when the salary cap jumps next year.
Durant will leave Oklahoma City after nine seasons as a star. The Thunder missed a trip to the NBA Finals last playoffs when the Warriors came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the conference finals. Ultimately, Durant decided that if he couldn’t beat them, he would join them. Between Durant and Stephen Curry, the two have combined to win the NBA’s last three MVP awards.
“I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth,” Durant wrote. “With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
That doesn’t mean Durant’s move to the Bay Area will be simple. The Warriors will expect more passing and sharing than Durant has ever faced throughout his career, and there simply won’t be quite as many touches for him throughout the season with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Golden State plans to let Harrison Barnes walk in restricted free agency, but Durant’s 30.6 percent usage rate last season dwarfs Barnes’ 15.9 percent. Everyone will have to sacrifice.
Still, be careful not to overthink this. Durant is one of the three or four best basketball players in the world and he’s joining another one of the top three or four players. It’s already nearly impossible to stop Durant or Curry right now on their current teams. Trying to prevent both of them from scoring? That’s the stuff horror movies are made from.
Durant’s decision is a surprise, even though he had reportedly landed on Oklahoma City and Golden State as his two choices after going through a round of meetings. In New York, Durant met with those two teams, as well as the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers. Still, throughout the meetings, the Thunder were considered the front-runners to retain Durant, explained by the fact that they met with Durant twice — first, on June 30, and last, on Sunday.
A phone call from Warriors executive board member Jerry West may have swayed Durant’s decision. The 78-year-old NBA legend told Durant how the eight times he lost in the finals (in nine appearances) still bother him to this day. Since Durant has said repeatedly that this free agency decision will be based on winning rings, it’s understandable that he would ultimately pick the Warriors.
Golden State is the immediate championship favorite for next season, even if they likely fail to repeat a 73-win season while Durant adjusts to his new team. After LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the first win after going down 3-1 in NBA Finals history, the Warriors will be looking for revenge.
Durant missed most of the 2014-15 season after undergoing surgery on his right foot, so there were questions about whether he’d be the same after getting healthy. Durant answered them by putting together the second-best season of his career. He averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 38 percent from beyond the arc. He also quieted any concerns about his durability by suiting up for 72 regular season games and 18 playoff matchups.
The Thunder looked a step or two below the Warriors and the Spurs in the West for most of the season, but found another gear in the playoffs, in no small part thanks to Durant. They eliminated San Antonio in the conference semifinals in six close games and pushed Golden State to seven games. Durant was especially great against the defending champions on the defensive end, showing that he can be a two-way force instead of just an elite scorer.
But late-game execution plagued the Warriors as they blew a 3-1 lead and lost the conference finals. Durant struggled greatly to score in the clutch, as the Thunder’soffense devolved into isolation plays against a set defense. At the time, despite the obvious heartbreak, Durant looked at the bright side:
“There are no moral victories in our locker room after the game,” Durant said. “We’re all upset. We wanted to get a chance to play for a championship in The Finals, so that hurts. But when you sit down and look back at what happened throughout the season, you can be proud of not just the players, but everybody in the organization from the top to the bottom.”
Despite expressing nothing but positive feelings towards the Thunder franchise, speculation about Durant possibly leaving in free agency never quieted down. The case against staying in Oklahoma City was based on the front office’s inability to put together a deep supporting cast around its two superstars, as well as Billy Donovan’s failure to rein Russell Westbrook’s worst tendencies and install a more creative offense. A change of scenery didn’t seem out of the question. Durant was in play.
Over the past few days, the Celtics brought Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady to help sell Durant on what it’s like to play (and win) in Boston. The Clippers reportedly “blew away” Durant in their meeting. Gregg Popovich kept the Spurs’ pitch short, reportedly just two hours, which is a selling point in itself. Miami’s pitch was led by Pat Riley, always a salesman.
But in the end, the Warriors won out by sending a contingent including Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Steve Kerr, general manager Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob. That recruitment team may be as hard to beat as the actual basketball one, and Durant gave in. Now, the biggest question is how many times people can debate whether or not this team is the greatest in NBA history before they’ve even played a game together.
And is it? Is this the greatest team to ever play this sport? That’s not an anointment that can be made in July, but it sure looks like they could be.