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In February 2019, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic heightened discussion about Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors.
“Insiders around the league think Kevin Durant is leaving the Warriors for the Knicks. Most people within the Warriors either think Durant is leaving or profess not to know one way or the other.”
“Durant appears to outwardly sulk. Beyond the exasperated on-court gesticulations and media avoidance, he’s made a habit of drifting far from the huddle during timeouts, electing to stand alone by the stanchion.”
Durant was in a long stretch of not talking to the media. When he finally spoke, he lashed out:
“You’ve got a dude, Ethan Strauss, who comes in here and just give his whole opinion on stuff and make it seem like it’s coming from me. And he just walk around here, don’t talk to nobody, just walk in here and survey then right something like that. Now, y’all piling on me, because I don’t want to talk to y’all about that”
“I’m trying to play basketball. Y’all come in here every day asking me about free agency, asking my teammates, my coaches. You rile up the fans about it. Let us play basketball. That’s all I’m saying. And now when I don’t want to talk to y’all, it’s a problem with me. C’mon, man. Grow up. Grow up. Yeah, you. Grow up. C’mon bro. I come in here and go to work every day. I don’t cause no problems. I play the right way – or I try to play the right way. I try to be the best player I can be every possession. What’s the problem?”
The Knicks prediction was obviously off base. Durant signed with the Nets last summer.
But Durant just basically confirmed the rest of Strauss’ assessment.
When did Durant decide to leave the Warriors?
Durant on All The Smoke:
“I knew just about halfway point through the year. I could feel the separation between the two. You just feel like everybody was just waiting on me to make a decision in free agency. Even from coaches to my teammates to the media just like – everybody was like, “KD, what are you going to do?” It’s just like January. And I’m like, “I’m just trying to hoop. That’s all I want to do is play basketball every day.” I came in every single day, kept my head down. I didn’t say much. I wasn’t too excited about much. So, my coaches and my teammates thought something was wrong with me. But I was just like, I’m really focused on the end goal, which is to win the third championship in a row. And my methods may not be welcoming to other people. But it’s just how I do things, how I approach the game.”
Durant tipped his hand even sooner, signing a 1+1 rather than a 2+1 contract in 2018. That showed he prioritized the flexibility to leave Golden State last summer over maximizing his income.
As a result of that and other indicators of Durant’s impending departure, the Warriors spent last season under a cloud of speculation. Don’t blame Durant. Those were unavoidable circumstances.
But it weighed on everyone, and it sounds as if Durant made the tension worse than necessary. Attitudes are contagious. If Durant wasn’t excited to be at work, that’d make it harder for everyone else to maximize their enthusiasm. It’s exhausting to go through a long season that way, especially for a team that mentally fatigued from four prior long playoff runs. Golden State was talented enough to overcome that obstacle, but it was an obstacle, nonetheless.
If he already decided by January, it’s fair to question Durant’s commitment to the Warriors. Of course, he wanted to win. But how focused was he really on the task at hand with one foot already out the door?
That said, in the end, Durant proved his devotion to helping Golden State win.
Then, as he apparently planned for months, he left.