VANCOUVER, British Columbia – On his way to the bus Saturday night, Kevin Durant was walking through the Golden State Warriors’ locker room, past the coaches and front-office staff, past his preseason debut. He clutched a paper plate loaded with the buffet spread as his eyes caught the franchise’s architect knotting his tie.
“Nice to see you make a shot out there,” general manager Bob Myers deadpanned.
Durant smiled and nodded, as though gratified to hear Myers busting his chops.
Durant had played a little nervously, a little scattered in a Warriors uniform. It is a long jaunt to June, and it began by missing seven of nine shots in 18 minutes against the Toronto Raptors.
Maybe it’ll come fast for Durant here; maybe it’ll take some time. Nevertheless, it will come for him with these Warriors, and when it does, they’ll be a gathering of talent to behold.
Under Myers and coach Steve Kerr in Golden State, the Warriors take the job seriously – just not themselves. They’re much closer to the San Antonio Spurs model than most of that franchise’s direct descendants. Rival players can be close friends for years, but free agency is a stranger process for the decision-makers: Management and coaches meet a player for the first time on July 1, and get his decision within days. In a lot of ways, the GM and coach come together as perfect strangers with a superstar signee.
“I’ll tell you this: I don’t know Kevin Durant very well at all right now,” Myers told The Vertical. “He’s a little bit like Andre Iguodala in that way. I think it takes years to get to know players. I don’t know enough about him right now.”
In meeting Durant in the Hamptons in July, though, Myers knew this: Durant wanted to find joy in basketball and the Warriors had the market cornered on it.
“One of the pillars of Steve’s culture is joy,” Myers told The Vertical. “Have fun. That’s why you come to shootaround and hear the music going. It took me a while to figure that out. As someone new in the business, I thought you were supposed to have strict rules. That’s how it was done. Steve helped me realize it’s a long season and you can be successful while enjoying yourself. He’s proven that here.
“Winning, success, they don’t have to be accompanied by rigidity. We try to let people be themselves, grow up, evolve. We make mistakes. We will make more mistakes. But our players are grown men, and they’ll do what they need to do.”
For all the reasons that have been explored and examined about Durant’s decision to bolt Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency – especially the scrutiny upon the Russell Westbrook-Durant dynamic – this can’t be lost in it all: Durant’s ultimate disconnect with Oklahoma City far transcended his co-star and extended deeper into the Thunder franchise. This is no one’s fault; teams and organizations have to be themselves, operate within what works for them, and then free agency allows players to make the choice.
In the end, Golden State’s Draymond Green wouldn’t have been so persistent recruiting Durant throughout the past season had Durant shut down the conversations. Green wouldn’t have texted and talked with one-sided conversations that included no responses, no reciprocation. Truth be told, something was missing for Durant in Oklahoma City, and he left because he believed it existed in Golden State. Great players need an anchor to stay, and Durant didn’t have an anchor there.
“I did think that was an advantage for us,” Green told The Vertical.
Durant fits here. When he touched the ball on Saturday night, they booed him at the Rogers Arena. So it goes. Eventually, it’ll subside. Yes, it takes a moment to train your eyes, see Durant in that Warriors uniform and allow your mind to recalibrate its thinking.
His agents didn’t make the decision, nor his family or friends. Durant did. He wanted to leave Oklahoma City. He wanted to play for the Warriors – and with the Warriors. For Durant, the choice wasn’t some kind of a measure of his character, but simply a window into his priorities and preferences.
“We haven’t had any talks about how he fits in here,” Green told The Vertical. “It’s a natural. Those are the talks that got him here – how he fit. He’s definitely a person who believes relationships matter.”
One preseason game down, and the Warriors and Durant are marching down the path now. Myers stood in a corner of the coach’s locker room, and had no interest in pretending he could speak with tremendous authority on the superstar who walked into his life on July 4.
Myers knows this, though: “[Durant] wants an environment that he enjoys going to work in every day,” he said. “It’s basic. Everyone wants to complicate it, but Kevin Durant loves playing basketball. That’s all he wants to do: play basketball. And enjoy himself.”
Perhaps Kevin Durant isn’t used to a front-office executive busting his chops on a bad shooting night, but the look on his face suggested he loved it. These are the Golden State Warriors, and that’s such a part of what made the sport’s biggest free agent make a leap of faith.
Welcome to Golden State, KD. Now, make a jump shot, will you?
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