One year after sending shockwaves through the NBA with his decision to join the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant could become a free agent again and do it all over again this summer.
The way he tells it, though, Warriors fans can rest easy about his 2017 player option. In an interview with The Undefeated after Sunday’s practice in San Antonio, the 2014 NBA MVP said, “I made the 100 percent correct decision, win or lose,” and, “I don’t plan on going anywhere else.” The key exchange:
Will you be playing for the Warriors next season?
Durant: “Yeah. I love it here. I love my teammates. I love the city [of Oakland]. I love the organization. I love it here. I don’t plan on going anywhere else.”
Well, then, no need to worry. Except, this is precisely what Durant told the good people of Oklahoma City a year before leaving the Thunder for the rival Warriors in July 2016. Here he is on OKC in 2015:
“I love it here, man. I love my teammates, I love the city, I don’t really think about anywhere else. I hear it all the time, don’t get me wrong, and once you hear it you’re kind of like [looks up, thinking]. But for me, I love staying in the moment, and I’m one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career.
“Kobe [Bryant], Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki type. That’s awesome,” he said. “But you never know what the future holds sometimes and how teams may feel about you after a while, but I love it here and I would love to get my jersey retired here.”
Of course, those comments came roughly 15 months before Durant left the Thunder in his dust, and his latest pledge of allegiance to a city is only a little more than a month away from his next big decision — whether to pick up his $27.7 million option for 2017-18 or opt out and sign a max contract starting at roughly $36 million next season, in Golden State or elsewhere. Durant is a 28-year-old who can do whatever he damn well pleases with his life, but it would be an even bigger kick in the you-know-whats to leave town so soon after professing his love for Oakland, so we’ll take him at his word.
And that’s really the crux of the whole debate about Durant. Folks in Oklahoma City figured he would stay, not only because the Thunder had nearly upset the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals, but because he had given them little indication he was planning to leave the city. This seems like the very reason Russell Westbrook still holds a grudge against his former friend and teammate.
So, while Durant tells The Undefeated, “This is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life,” forgive Oklahomans for rolling their eyes and not seeing that quote’s source as completely credible.
Listen, sane people should be happy for Durant when he says Oakland is “a great spot for me to be,” because even the most diehard fan should not want someone playing for their team if he’d rather be somewhere else, but it’s baffling he remains “confused” about why people were so upset at him.
Here’s more from Durant with The Undefeated on the reaction to his 2016 decision:
“I was more so confused. You can say whatever you want about my decision or who you think I am. The only thing that matters is in between the lines. I respect the game. I work hard. I came in and respect my teammates. I respect just the competitiveness of the game of basketball. That’s in between the lines. I try to play the right way and handle myself the right way. I am just confused as to why that stuff doesn’t matter more than what happens on Twitter or whatever the topic of discussion is each day. I think it takes away from what is most important: that ball and that basket, everything in between the lines.
“I don’t expect anyone who has never been there before to understand that. They have nothing else to talk about because they don’t really know what it is or what it feels like to be on the court in an NBA game. I don’t hold it against them. That’s why I am not mad.
“I’m just more so confused that you can be an analyst or an expert, and I want to talk to the people who disrespect what goes on in between the lines. I respect a lot of people in [the media] business who really appreciate how hard it is to get to this point. So, I’m more so confused that [select media] doesn’t talk about the game of basketball more so than narratives and gossip around basketball. That’s what I’m more confused about.”
I’m not sure in what world Durant thinks basketball fans should sit at home and think, “Hey, I’m not mad he left my team to go play for the team that just beat us, because he really respects the game.” And I don’t think talking about the drama behind his departure from the Thunder is disrespectful to the game of basketball, because a) it is, after all, just a game, and 2) by this logic, Westbrook, who knows exactly “what it feels like to be on the court,” is no less disrespectful than the “select media.”
There’s a reason more people care about the beef between Durant and Westbrook than a breakdown of why a Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll broke down. These are the things people discuss when the game is on at the bar. Fans and media members can understand why Durant made his decision, but they don’t have to like it. And they certainly shouldn’t have to withhold their thoughts about it.
Seriously, would you rather discuss the nuances of a third-quarter defensive switch or whether Durant is merely ring-chasing in Golden State. If it’s the former, then we might as well watch robots play basketball. The personalities and the drama behind the game often turns the entertainment up a notch, and for Durant, a title will be that much sweeter because of the story behind how he got there. You can’t pick and choose which storylines you want people to root for. It’s all part of the show.
It shouldn’t be that confusing. Then again, Durant is the same guy who recently said of the NBA’s lackluster playoffs thus far, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,” so one could make the argument his perception of the fans’ viewing experience is as far off as he believes the fans’ perception is of him.
And now I’m just as confused as Durant.
Regardless, no matter how guaranteed it seems that Durant will remain a Warrior for the longterm, there will always be that thought in the back of everyone else’s mind that he will eventually bolt Golden State, too — until “I don’t plan on going anywhere else” is proven to be more than lip service.
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