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How to (maybe) convince Kevin Durant to leave the Warriors

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The path forward isn’t to make him feel bad about 2016. Those who want him to leave need to make him feel insecure about his legacy.

2018 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Minicamp Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The C.J. McCollum saga is an interesting twist in the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Durant’s fight against negative public perception. McCollum doesn’t deserve to be dragged as thoroughly as he has been — his comments regarding the front-running nature of Durant have been relatively sober and are widely held — but the episode illustrates the state of play, so it needs to be brought up again.

The charge, one made daily since Durant declared he would join the Warriors in July 2016, is that KD joined an overpowered enemy once he found he couldn’t beat them. This charge is literally true — Durant’s Thunder fell one maniacal Klay Thompson run short of beating the defending champion Warriors in 2016 — but also, unfortunately, carries a lot of gross baggage.

It’s worth noting that the Twitter flare-up in McCollum vs. Durant came from the Blazers guard being asked if KD’s move qualified as a “b—— move.” It’s an ugly term; McCollum thankfully sidestepped it while still critiquing Durant harshly.

What Durant said in response twists it up pretty good.

Durant, throughout the brouhaha, has spent less time defending his decision (something he’s done at length over the past two years) than he has attacking McCollum’s team. This is genius.

During the infamous podcast conversation between the two, Durant ridiculed McCollum’s suggestion that the Warriors adding DeMarcus Cousins materially changed the Blazers’ chances of winning, because that suggested that Portland had any chance whatsoever to begin with.

KD: I suggest you just keep playing, man, and don’t worry about what goes on at the top of things.

CJ: We right there at the top of things. We were the 3rd seed!

KD: Relax.

CJ: We were right there, just slightly below No. 1 an No. 2.

KD: How’d you play?

CJ: Some unfortunate situations happened in the first round?

KD: How’d you play?

CJ: Some unfortunate circumstances happened.

KD: Like a 8th seed.

It works on two levels. First, it reminds everyone that the Warriors have won two straight titles and three of four before adding Cousins. Second, it deflects the criticism away from the Warriors by refocusing the inferiority where it belongs: on everyone else. Basketball fans love to make fun of Durant for joining the NBA’s hegemonic power. But basketball fans also love making fun of teams who consistently fall well short of greatness, and the Blazers top that list of targets.

McCollum has a point about Durant. But then again, McCollum’s Blazers got swept by a lower seed missing their All-Star center, so ... does it matter what he thinks? That’s the defensive mechanism in action. It’s pretty effective at stopping the debate cold. It’s not altogether artful, but it works.

The proper response is to question what, if the superior team is so superior, is said superior team so afraid of? If teams like the Blazers and everyone else had no shot against the Warriors in the first place, why are you out there grabbing DeMarcus Cousins for a song? Clearly, Golden State must be worried about something.

If other NBA players do actually want to convince Durant to leave the Warriors in 2019 — which NBA players absolutely should want to accomplish — this is the thread to pull on. This should be a leaguewide goal: make Durant feel so bad about his 2016 decision and satisfied with his (by-then) three championships that he leaves as a free agent next summer.

2018 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Minicamp Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Here’s the playbook they should use to try to convince him

Was Durant afraid he’d never win a title and thus never join the pantheon of the greatest players ever without joining the Warriors? Are the Warriors afraid that if they aren’t heads-and-shoulders above opponents in terms of talent depth and roster — with now five legitimate All-Stars — that they’ll crumble like they did in the 2016 Finals? Is Durant afraid that without all these All-Stars around him, he’ll crumble like he did in the 2016 Western Conference Finals? Is he worried that few take his accomplishments with Golden State seriously given that he’s changed the difficulty level to lowest setting?

He should be worried about that.

Is he worried that, now securely in the pantheon, everyone in the future will know him not simply as one of the best scorers ever, but as an MVP-caliber player who joined a 73-win superpower after losing to them in the playoffs?

He should be worried about that.

Is he worried two straight Finals MVPs have not elevated him to the status of Best Basketball Player in the World, but have instead made him practically invisible as the basketball world (contemporary players included!) discuss the weakness of his competitive constitution?

He should be worried about that.

Is he worried that he really has no fan base of his own, not in Oklahoma City, not in the Bay Area ... not really anywhere?

He should be worried about that.

Is he worried that future generations of Oklahomans will laud and remember Russell Westbrook, not him, and future Warriors fans will herald the rise of the golden child Stephen Curry as the franchise’s savior, not Durant? Is he worried this will happen despite being objectively better than Westbrook during his time with OKC and at least on par with, if not superior, to Curry as a Warriors?

He should be worried about that.

As Durant hammers inferior foes like McCollum and the Blazers, this is the thread those who want him to leave should pull.

Durant has come to peace with the decision he made in 2016. That’s over. Calling him names and analogizing it to siding with bullies won’t actually affect Durant anymore.

But question the future, question his legacy, question how continued partnership with Curry and the Warriors affects his place in the pantheon and how he’ll be remembered in basketball lore — maybe that will worm inside his heart and brain and lead him to leave.

That’s what those who want him to leave Golden State all want, right? Isn’t that the upshot of criticizing him anyways, that he’ll reverse course and strike out on his own again?

Making him feel bad about 2016 isn’t going to work. Making him feel insecure about 2046 might. Aim for that.