The Golden State Warriors are just good enough to not really be terribly interesting as a basketball team, per se. While their ultimate impregnability remains to be tested — the Warriors are 1-for-1 in championship runs under current construction — there’s plenty of evidence that Golden State are the single most dominant force in the NBA right now and perhaps the most talented team ever.
This excellence manifests in a relative lack of drama. The Warriors lost exactly one playoff game in 2017, and have lost just one per series thus far in 2018. Talking about adjustments and match-ups feels meaningless with the Warriors. They are almost assuredly going to win, in the end.
Golden State did make a number of defensive adjustments in Game 3 against the Rockets, but the biggest reason the Warriors won by 41 is that Stephen Curry shot himself out of his slump and had a literally perfect third quarter. That’s something the Warriors can do with their roster: just rely on a two-time MVP to regress to the mean.
What the Warriors lack in vulnerability, though, they supplant with internal intrigue.
Namely, in the lack of their internal intrigue.
David West talked to Marcus Thompson of The Athletic about the abnormal nature Golden State’s locker room.
“I’ve had to tell the young guys, y’all need to talk to some other people, ask guys what it’s like in other environments because this is not normal.”
Certainly, the Warriors’ youngest players like Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, and Patrick McCaw have no point of reference but the Warriors in the NBA. Even Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have limited understanding of NBA normalcy: they have spent their whole careers playing behind the unassuming, gentle superstar Curry. Curry himself had a few trying seasons as a pre-revival Warrior, so he has some understanding of West’s claim. Curry, Thompson, and Green all went through the bizarre Mark Jackson unwinding, as well.
But when West talks about how weirdly chill the Warriors’ locker room has been, I come back to Kevin Durant.
He chose this. He wanted this. He sought this out. He’s seen the other side.
That choice had trade-offs. He’ll might never win an MVP in Golden State, and that will limit how high up the mountain of all-timer NBA superstars he climbs. He took immense amounts of criticism for his decision to join the already overpowered Wariors, and there is ample evidence he takes criticism to heart.
No matter: he did it, and he will likely re-up for more of it this summer as a free agent, possibly at a discount to the ultra-wealthy managing partners of the franchise.
That speaks to a few things: Durant’s personality, the value Durant puts in interpersonal harmony, and the interpersonal relationships Durant experienced in Oklahoma City. He’s committed to a real trade-off in his physical prime, swapping individual recognition for happiness and team success.
Yet he’ll never get credit for it.
Most who would be predisposed to recognizing Durant’s commitment to team success over individual accolades disparage his particular choice of team, given their excellence. Because the Warriors had won 73 games and been stopped from back-to-back titles only by LeBron James’ epochal greatness, Durant’s dive into team over self feels cheaper. “Frontrunner” is one of the nastiest curse words in sport, and Durant’s decision embodies it.
For what it’s worth, Durant would appear to be insulated enough in the warm cocoon of the Warriors and of Kevin Durant Inc. to set aside the reputational impact of his move. One wonders if the intermittent anti-Russell Westbrook sentiment that leaks out of Durant via Instagram likes and burner account slips is a defense mechanism: the worse people believe Westbrook’s relationship with co-stars to be, the better Durant’s decision to leave looks.
(The Thunder’s horrendous finish to the season boosts this narrative. But it’s undercut by the fact that Durant absolutely had more pull in OKC than Westbrook circa 2016. If he wanted Russ to change or be gone, he could have told the front office that.)
Sunday night made clear again that Durant will never be loved in Golden State as Curry is. The level of mania that a Curry-induced explosion summons from the Warriors’ faithful could never be matched by a classic Durant performance.
This ties into the funny debate among Warriors fans about Curry and Durant — who is more important, who is qualitatively better. This debate might grate on a player like Durant if Durant weren’t so happy to be here. If he re-signs with the Warriors this summer, as expected, it will prove that Durant doesn’t care he’ll always be second fiddle to Curry in the hearts of the fandom.
Is there anything more noble than subjugating the self for group harmony?
Kevin Durant is a different type of NBA personality. Most present that as a knock on him, but consider the other side. This selflessness is rare.