Kevin Durant’s move to the Golden State Warriors ranks as the biggest NBA free agency decision since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. However, the Warriors’ introduction of their new superstar was nothing like the Miami Heat’s pyrotechnic-filled party in 2010. If anything, Thursday’s afternoon event at the team’s training facility seemed calculated to normalize Durant’s league-altering change of scenery, to present it as the logical move for a player who could be a perfect fit in the Bay Area for years to come.
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It’s telling that Warriors TV play-by-play announcer Bob Fitzgerald opened the press conference by directing his first two questions to general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr, not to the star of the show. Myers and Kerr discussed the promise of Durant in terms of the organizational structure already in place — how the player with the third-highest per-game scoring average in NBA history will fit in an offensive built on shooting and rapid ball movement, how excited they are to have him as a part of the Warriors, and how they hope that Durant can help to erase the pain of this season’s NBA Finals and win more championships in 2017 and beyond.
Durant took over soon after, and his answers covered the ground you would expect given the controversy of his decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and the various reports that have come out since Monday. The 2014 MVP particularly focused on the personalities and camaraderie between his new teammates and how he excited he is to feel that same joy and togetherness.
Kevin Durant on his decision to join GSW: "It was authentic. It was real. It was a feeling I couldn't ignore."
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) July 7, 2016
He also did not try to claim that his choice should be viewed as normal or uncontroversial. At the same time, Durant held firm in his belief that playing for the Warriors is the best move for him and his basketball career.
Kevin Durant asked if he feels guilty. pic.twitter.com/0dtEx4ILNq
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD_) July 7, 2016
While many critics have viewed his move to a core that won 73 games as the easy path to a championship (or several), Durant stressed that it was a difficult choice. He spoke of the value of his relationships with teammates, colleagues, and friends developed during his eight seasons with the Thunder (plus his rookie year as a Seattle SuperSonic), acknowledged the potential for resentment, and generally tried to accept the emotion of it all without allowing it to override his feelings.
“That call to Oklahoma City was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” he said. “Tears were shed. This was like I said a new journey for me, testing the unknown, and I trusted my gut, I trusted my instincts. It’s an unpopular decision, but I can live with it.”
As expected, though, Durant, Myers, and Kerr focused on the new-look Warriors and the promise of this stellar lineup. For Durant, the choice was about comfort, the feeling that he could come in and new facets and abilities to the team without fully disrupting what has made them so successful. At the same time, he knows he will have to make adjustments, and not just on the court.
“This was the hardest road because I don’t know anybody here,” he said. “I’ve never lived in this community, never played for this team, and I took a leap.”
Lots of fans are likely to take issue with that statement, because the Bay Area is sure to welcome Durant just fine. The assembled crowd applauded at several moments, and Durant seemed willing to joke with Kerr, Myers, and assistant coach Ron Adams whenever he had the opportunity. He even got in the best-ever description of Klay Thompson during a description of the recruitment process.
Kevin Durant talks about Klay Thompson's involvement on his decision pic.twitter.com/v6cBcZJsgW
— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) July 7, 2016
Still, the lack of glitz or bold pronouncements was the overarching takeaway of the event. Durant focused on basketball, saying that he feels comfortable with Thompson, Stephen Curry, and the in-attendance Draymond Green as teammates and people. There is clearly excitement in the air, but no one came across as especially arrogant or self-involved.
It’s possible to view that approach as a public relations move intended to suppress the growing feeling that the Warriors are the NBA’s new villains. Yet Durant’s statements and answers to media questions seemed quite genuine, to the point where it’s probably best to take him at his word when he speaks of feeling a connection to this organization and wanting to explore new possibilities for his career. The press conference wasn’t especially dramatic and garish because Durant did not make his decision to grab the NBA’s attention. He picked a new long-term home for personal reasons best expressed in a subdued atmosphere.
The Warriors will probably not succeed in making the acquisition of Durant primarily about basketball and culture fit, because any move as important as this one carries major implications for the league as a competitive landscape and business. That said, it’s probably most sensible to assess Durant’s reasons for joining the Warriors in terms of his personal interests and not his as-yet-determined historical legacy. If nothing else, Thursday’s event managed to put free agency’s biggest story back into human terms.
A video posted by ThompsonScribe (@thompsonscribe) on Jul 7, 2016 at 3:33pm PDT
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