How could Kevin Durant leave the Thunder for the Warriors, who had just beaten Oklahoma City in the playoffs?
Maybe because he never believed the Thunder held more than a puncher’s chance that postseason.
Golden State won an NBA-record 73 games in 2015-16. The Spurs had an even better than net rating than the Warriors that season. And the eventual-champion Cavaliers loomed with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Oklahoma City beat San Antonio in the second round then blew a 3-1 lead to Golden State in the Western Conference finals. (The Warriors then blew their own 3-1 lead to Cleveland in the NBA Finals.)
Where does that loss to the Warriors rank among the hardest to deal with in Durant’s career?
It doesn’t rank in the top five.
We lost Game 2 at home in 2012 to Miami. That was a tough loss. We lost Game 5 against Memphis at home. It was a 2-2 series. They went up 3-2. Those are tough losses to me. I really, really, really felt like we had an opportunity. We had some momentum.
We’re playing against 73-win team in the Warriors and the Spurs, who were a 67-win team that year. And then the Cavs were the best team in the league, most-talented team. So, I’m like, “We’ve got an uphill climb. Let’s just see what we can do.”
But these other seasons, I felt like…
“You actually had it?” a host asked.
Durant named two other losses, not five. Not top-five might have been hyperbole.
But he’s clearly downplaying the significance of the Golden State loss to him.
Maybe that’s how he feels. I can’t know exactly how he feels, and I certainly wouldn’t tell him how should feel. He has indicated how much faith he was losing in the Thunder. Maybe he truly didn’t get his hopes up high enough in 2016 to feel burned by blowing that lead.
This seems dubious, though.
The young Thunder might have believed they would win the 2012 NBA Finals against the Heat, but Oklahoma City still appeared destined for a dynasty after that loss.
Yes, the Thunder lost Game 5 to the Grizzlies in the 2014 first round. But Oklahoma City rallied to win the series in seven. How badly could that loss have stung? Not enough to undermine a comeback.
The 2016 Thunder reached an incredibly high level against Golden State. Their length and athleticism tormented the Warriors, and Oklahoma City also brought plenty of skill. Golden State really had to elevate its own play to win three straight. Those Thunder looked like a championship-caliber team to me – though maybe not to Durant.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Durant is retconning an explanation for his 2016 free agency. He received immense criticism for leaving for the team that just beat him. Downplaying the personal significance of that series could be an attempt to change the narrative.
So, maybe this explains why Durant signed with the Warriors.
Or maybe it shows more about how Durant wants to frame that decision after the fact.