With the current NBA season at its halfway point, we have a pretty good idea as to who the real title contenders are. For the Golden State Warriors they find themselves in a very familiar spot as not only being the defending NBA Champions, but also as the team to beat. The Warriors have had their ups and downs so far this season, but their 29-14 mark is second best in the Western Conference, and even if they fail to secure home-court advantage throughout the postseason, the road to the NBA Title goes through them. Good and bad alike there are several stories that are front and center in regards to the Warriors, but nothing is more captivating than the status of small forward Kevin Durant.
Durant joined the Warriors in 2016 after he spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. With the Thunder, Durant averaged 27.4 points per game, which was highlighted by being named as the NBA’s MVP in 2014. Most signs pointed to Durant being a lifer in Oklahoma City until he surprised most of the basketball world in 2016 in joining the Warriors. Most observers viewed the move as weak and chided Durant for joining a team that had won 73 games in the prior regular season.
But since joining the Warriors, Durant has attempted to ignore the outside noise as he’s helped Golden State win a pair of NBA Championships, while he was also recognized as being named the NBA Finals MVP in each instance. In joining the Warriors, not only did Durant want to win, but he wanted to also prove to people that he had the ability to go all the away. However the appreciation that Durant was seeking upon going to Oakland has yet to come.
There is still a large sentiment of people who won’t give Durant the respect that he feels he deserves being that he joined a Warriors team that already had three All-Stars in point guard Steph Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, and power forward Draymond Green as they view him as someone who decided to ride their coat tails in spite of the fact that he’s averaged 26.4 points and 7.5 rebounds during his Golden State tenure. Durant is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and although there is a possibility that he could bid farewell to the Bay Area, wherever he goes, the cries of him being soft and weak will not go away.
Upon small forward LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, the rumors began to swirl about Durant possibly leaving the Warriors to join him. There were also rumors that Durant could sign with the New York Knicks as a free agent. But whichever team that Durant decides to ink a deal with next summer, he is going to be criticized.
Durant joining the Lakers would be considered weaker than him joining the Warriors as he would then go from being perceived as riding the coat tails of Curry to those of James. The Knicks are not exactly a title contender at the moment, but on the surface it would appear that the pressure of playing for the Warriors got to him. And as there will be other suitors lining up to obtain Durant’s services on the basketball court, his best option would be to stay in the Bay Area with the Warriors.
Yes if Durant were to remain with the Warriors it would still officially not be his team, but he would continue to be a part of something special, while building a legacy for himself in Northern California instead of chasing something that is unattainable.
There is no doubt that Durant is one of the best players of this era of NBA basketball, and yes winning titles does play a part in the legacy of a superstar, but his legacy is never going to get any better than it currently is. Durant will most likely seek to get top dollar for himself via a new NBA contract, but if he were to take less money in order to keep Golden State’s quartet in tact, what he sacrificed in salary he would undoubtedly make up for in endorsements from corporations such as Nike who sponsor him. And with the Warriors set to move from Oakland to San Francisco at the end of this season, there will be plenty of marketing and advertising money at his doorsteps due to the financial backing from the Silicon Valley.
Durant’s public image of him being “soft”, and a “fake tough guy” will not get any better than it currently is if he were to go somewhere else next season. Durant’s already fragile public image among basketball fans took another hit earlier this season when he got into a heated exchange with Green during a Warriors lose to the Los Angeles Clippers. The frustration of the two stars only added to the notion that Durant will be headed out of Oakland this summer on the first thing smoking, but will it actually happen?
Initially after the incident with Green, Durant’s production struggled as this that of the team. Following the incident in November, the Warriors would suffer through a four-game losing streak. But since late December, Golden State has won six of their last seven games with Durant connecting on 50% of his field goals this month. Durant and Green may never be looked at as “kissing cousins”, but if the egos can be put aside, the Warriors still have several title runs on the table.
On paper the Warriors will be even stronger as center DeMarcus Cousins is expected to soon make his long awaited debut with the club, and it will be important for him to have some chemistry with the Warriors as he’ll be another mouth to feed in regards to getting shots.
But getting back to Durant, he has sat back and seen the backlash that James took from some people after he joined the Miami Heat in 2010, went back to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, and signed with the Lakers last summer. James is at the forefront of the latest trend in the NBA of star players teaming up to form “super teams”. And yes James and Durant are not the first stars in the NBA to play musical chairs in regards to playing for teams, but there is a price to pay for those decisions. Durant already proved to be on shaky ground mentally following his departure from Oklahoma City and leaving the Bay Area this summer won’t make it any better. But if Durant does decide to remain with the Warriors, there will still be that sentiment that he could not get it done on his own in spite that nobody has ever won an NBA Title by himself. Durant is 30-years old and in the prime of his career, but his decision this summer will be the most important move of his career as it’ll supersede his decision to join the Warriors in 2016. In recent years Durant has talked about his legacy, and in regards to that, he holds his fate in his own hands.