The world caught its first glimpse of Kevin Durant against a Golden State backdrop Thursday, as the former MVP centered Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr and General Manager Bob Myers to answer questions about his new home.
Bob Myers said:
“I still can’t believe I’m sitting next to him. Until he called me and told me he was coming, I didn’t think he was coming.”
Controversial from its outset, the Durant-Warriors pairing has been attacked by former players, analysts and fans as detrimental to the NBA’s parity, and likened to LeBron James’ 2010 move to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as a member of the Miami Heat.
“We live in this superhero kind of world where either you’re a villain or a superhero. I know I haven’t changed as a person, I don’t treat people differently because I made a decision to play basketball in another city.”
Durant chose the Warriors over a host of other suitors, including his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. His Player’s Tribune article, My Next Chapter, detailed his reasons for choosing Golden State — most prominently, the benefits to his personal growth that would stem from a change in scenery.
“It’s been hectic (making this decision). There’s a lot of attention that comes with being in this position, and I knew that. It was organic, it was authentic, it was real. I made the decision to come play for these guys and I feel great, I feel excited about this opportunity.”
The Thunder were one win away from besting the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before dropping three straight to finish the series.
Durant’s legacy in Oklahoma City includes seven All-Star team selections, four scoring titles and one NBA Finals appearance in addition to his MVP recognition in 2014. He is outlasted in Oklahoma by the other half of his perennial super-duo in Russell Westbrook, with whom Durant said he left on good terms:
“Obviously, it’s tough. We were teammates for so long and had a lot of great memories. I’m sure he wasn’t happy about the decision, but he respected it as my friend. The relationship is great. We had great years, man. It’s something that you’ll never take away from us.”
Among other courting factors, Durant pointed to his meeting with the Warriors established stars — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — as a turning point in his decision-making:
“I was shocked that those four guys came to meet me a couple days ago. To see them together, they all walked in like they were holding hands. I could tell they enjoyed being around each other. It wasn’t something I could ignore, it was a great vibe.”
Kerr’s expansive, sharp-shooting offense couldn’t have added a more fitting cog. Of seemingly incalculable height — he’s speculated as being anywhere from 6-foot-9 to 7 feet — Durant can pull up from anywhere on the court and shoot over anyone in the NBA. His 28.2 points per game ranked third behind Stephen Curry and Houston’s James Harden.
“I think it’s safe to say Kevin could fit in with any style. I think it was attractive to him to play with Draymond, Steph and Klay because of the way those guys play. He’s not just a shooter, he’s a basketball player. We think the style fits him perfectly and he suits us perfectly.”
As Warriors fans know all too well after watching Durant average 30 points per game during their feature-length Western Conference Finals affair, their new forward is among the league’s most potent scorers. According to Kerr, though, Durant’s defense was a formidable factor in the Warriors’ near-defeat:
“Everybody talks offense all the time. We had a tough time in the playoffs with Kevin’s length and versatility, defensively, and that’s been our calling card as a defense the last couple years. It really does feel like it should be seamless.”
Durant’s two-year, $54.3 million dollar deal preceded a series of roster shuffles, as Golden State’s front office contorted its way around the salary cap. Andrew Bogut was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade, and Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa were allowed to sign elsewhere in free agency.
Steve Kerr closed the press conference by acknowledging the Warriors that had departed in the wake of Durant’s arrival:
“I know I speak for our entire organization when I say that we will miss the players who will be gone as a result of the shift in the roster. I want to say thanks you to Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli. They helped us to a championship and to create what is here.”