The Golden State Warriors won the prestigious ENCORE award for 2016, given annually by the Stanford Graduate School of Business for the entrepreneurial company of the year. Owner Joe Lacob was on hand to accept the honor at Maples Pavilion on Stanford’s campus, along with general manager and team president Bob Myers, veteran forward Andre Iguodala and, curiously, Kevin Durant, who’s only been a Warrior for a handful of preseason games so far.
Or perhaps it made perfect sense for Durant to represent the team. What better way to show off the end result of the American dream?
The Warriors are the NBA’s rags-to-riches story, perennial laughingstocks who’ve built piece-by-piece until they won a NBA championship in 2015, a record 73 games the following season and enough prestige to interest someone of Durant’s stature.
Iguodala was significant too, if you think about it. He was the organization’s biggest free agent coup to date three years ago, the “missing piece” they needed to vault them over the top after they fell to the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western semi-finals after upsetting Iguodala’s Denver Nuggets in round one.
It took a year; the Dubs had to take the scenic route after Andrew Bogut was unavailable to them against the Clippers in the playoffs the following season. And they also needed to upgrade at coach, but Iguodala indeed proved to be a difference-maker to the tune of capturing Finals MVP for his work against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Obviously, the Warriors’ brass is hoping for similar rewards from Durant and then some. And they should since he’s one of the four or five best players in the world. But if they didn’t already understand that they were going to be dealing with a different kind of personality than they’ve had in their locker room, then Durant’s answers during the ENCORE ceremony offered another glimpse, via The Mercury News.
Among other things, Durant admitted to rooting against the Warriors in the Finals, because it would facilitate him joining them as a free agent.
“I was telling one of my friends, Rich (Kleiman, his agent), who’s here, we were watching Game 7. Well, as it started to unfold, it was, ‘No question, no way could you go to this team.’ And I was just like a kid, like, in a candy shop. I’d get wide open 3s, I could just run up and down the court, get wide open layups. I was basically begging him. I was like, yo, this would be nice. So as I was thinking about my decision and who I was gonna play for, this team came to mind. You know, as they lost, it became more and more real every day. You start to think about it even more. To see if I would fit. Then once I sat down with these guys, everything that I wanted to know about them they kinda showed me. But we don’t have to talk about it though because they didn’t get the job done and they came after me and who knows what would’ve happened. But I guess you could say I’m glad that they lost.”
Had they repeated as champions the Warriors would’ve still likely chased him –you’re either getting better or getting worse, after all– but Durant would’ve looked like a shameless ring-chaser, joining a two-time champion that did not seem to need improving. Instead, he can rationalize his decision as being the missing piece, the rich man’s version of Iguodala.
Later, when Durant was asked specifically what compelled him to choose the Warriors, he replied that it had been an “easy choice,” before elaborating on the cultural and stylistic fit of his new team to his personality and talents.
I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form. They make it about the players, they make it about the environment, so it was really an easy choice.”
Durant may feel uneasy about making comparisons between the Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder, or Stephen Curry to Russell Westbrook, or the offense he’ll run with Steve Kerr to the ones he starred in playing for Scotty Brooks and then Billy Donovan, but it’s impossible to strip away the context out of such statements.
It’s no different then when a coach is asked about the relative strengths and weaknesses of a player and they respond with the boilerplate “I don’t like to make comparisons” when literally their whole jobs are to make hundreds and thousands of comparisons, big and small, every minute of every day. It’s why they start player “A” over player “B,” why they cut player “X” instead of player “Y” and why they call this play over that play.
They’re making choices based on a menu of options. The truth is that coaches are perfectly comfortable making comparisons. They just don’t want to explain their rationale for them.
And so it must be for Durant, and the sooner he understands that, the better off we’ll all be. There is nothing positive he can say about his new employer, coach, teammates or home that cannot or will not be interpreted as a rejection of his old ones.
And he certainly hasn’t helped his situation any by being less than honest about how he delivered his decision to leave to Westbrook –he said they spoke, Westbrook countered that it was a brief text message— or for his camp throwing Westbrook under an 18-wheeler in a transparent response after a couple of Oklahoma City-based writers aired grievances once Durant left.
It’s doing Durant no good to speak glowingly about how sophisticated his new offense is and how fun his new teammates are while adding “but that’s no knock on Oklahoma City,” qualifiers at the end. It’s passive-aggressive nonsense, and everyone sees through it.
He has two choices going forward: A) Either cozy up with his beat writer or columnist of choice, or even the infernal Players Tribune, and really explain everything he disliked about the Thunder, top to bottom with no filters or B) Stick to only answering questions about the last game, the next game and nothing that will invoke comparisons to the past. Option A will never happen, and Option B is virtually impossible.
That’s the devil’s bargain Durant and the Warriors have made with one another. There will be scrutiny and distractions and unpleasant comparisons, every day. One of the reasons Durant wanted to join this environment was how united and free of animosity it appears from the outside, but a large part of that was due to the core of the team being built through the draft, with no jilted fan bases or controversies in anyone’s past. Iguodala leaving the Nuggets (or the Philadelphia 76ers, for that matter) didn’t exactly stir passions on the same scale. By virtue of joining the Warriors, Durant will be poisoning the pristine well he’s sought.
He’s never going to be able to escape the ghosts of his past, and his comments suggest he hasn’t been bothering to try very hard to in the first place.