Kevin Durant doesn’t think he’s the reason for a lack of competitive balance in the NBA. In a wide-ranging interview with USA TODAY, Durant opened up about the backlash he's received since signing with Golden State and how he's processing it heading into the finals.
“I'm just at peace with myself; I'm at peace with myself as a basketball player, most importantly,” Durant told USA TODAY Sports.
Durant, a former league Most Valuable Player and four-time scoring champion, left the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors last summer. That Warriors team not only eliminated Durant’s Thunder in last year’s Western Conference Finals, but they had already made to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances before landing the biggest fish in free agency.
Still, Durant enjoyed one of the most successful seasons of his illustrious career. He averaged 25 points on 53.7 percent shooting — only LeBron James and Karl-Anthony Towns were as productive and as efficient — and helped the Warriors become the first team in NBA history to go 12-0 in the playoffs.
For those reasons and more, he’s not here for anyone’s tears.
Durant isn’t responsible for competitive imbalance
While the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Cavaliers, and Celtics enjoyed successful seasons, many of the NBA’s other franchises either middled or bottomed out. More teams seemed to tank for better draft standing than ever before, and Durant had become somewhat of a social punching bag for what had gone wrong outside of the top five teams in the NBA.
But from his perspective, the decision to join the Warriors had no impact on the awful seasons other teams put together. He wasn’t headed to a floundering franchise, anyway. Durant wanted to win a championship, and Golden State was the best option.
"Like I'm the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn't make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?" he said, in an interview with USA TODAY. "Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they're not that good (laughs). I can't play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It's one more team that you probably would've thought would've been a contender. One more team. I couldn't have made the (entire) East better. I couldn't have made everybody (else) in the West better."
Historically, parity doesn’t exist in the NBA. The Los Angeles Lakers won five championships in the 1980s. The Celtics won three, and both the Pistons and 76ers won one.
In the ‘90s, the Bulls three-peated twice, the Rockets repeated, and the Pistons won the second of back-to-back championships. Gregg Popovich also won his first championship in 1999.
Then the Lakers kicked off the new century with a three-peat. Pop won a ring every other year, and the Pistons, Heat, and Celtics got rings where they could before Los Angeles repeated again. Combined, Los Angeles and Boston have won 33 of 70 possible NBA Finals.
This decade, though, that has changed. LeBron James’ team has won 50 percent of available championships. Durant was on the losing end of James’ first finals victory. He witnessed first-hand the need for stars to team up together to win a ring.
And now that he’s done it, he’s gotten himself in prime position to win one.
Durant has been called some nasty things
Durant’s decision to join a championship team left a sour taste in the mouths of not only Thunder fans, but many across the country. This was arguably the most efficient scorer of the modern basketball era joining two-time MVP Stephen Curry — the most dangerous shooter in basketball history — and a cast of two other All-Stars, a former Sixth Man of the Year, and a talented second unit.
It’s safe to say people weren’t happy. When he went back to Oklahoma City as an opponent for the first time since leaving in free agency, he wasn’t welcomed with open arms and sweet treats. Instead, fans called him a cupcake for leaving and created an entire campaign against him during his return.
They also snuck in some distasteful comments — words that anyone would object to:
“A kid was behind the bench, and he was like, 'You sold everybody out! You're a coward! You're a p----, a b----!’” Durant said. “I was just like, 'Why are you this upset?' That's what I was thinking, and that's why I was talking back, I was like, 'Why are you so mad again? What's so important about this that you want to call me all these disrespectful names?' That (expletive) doesn't fly where I'm from, where any one of us are from. If he walked up onto you, and said that to you, you would confront him. I'm like, 'Where is this coming from?'
Regardless of outside noise, Durant’s decision has proved to be the right one.
Before his injury following the All-Star break, Durant led the Warriors in points, rebounds, and blocked shots. He helped reshape Golden State’s dominance on the defensive end and has been a focal point of the undefeated playoff streak that’s landed them in the NBA Finals for a dance with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Durant was right. He could only make one team better. He chose the Warriors. Now he’s on his way to competing for a championship. If his decision sits well with him, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
And judging from his current situation, four more wins away from his first championship ring, it’s safe to say Kevin Durant is a happy camper.