Kevin Durant dominated the 2017 NBA Finals. In Game 3, he made a go-ahead pull-up 3-pointer over LeBron James and called it “the best moment I ever had.” Durant led the Warriors to the championship and won Finals MVP.
Just two years later, Durant left Golden State for the Nets – an abrupt end to a tenure that rarely deviated from those incredible heights.
What went wrong between Durant and the Warriors?
Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Bill Simmons of The Ringer discussed on the “Book of Basketball 2.0” podcast.
My theory – I’m not sure if I’m right – but I think he thought when he won the title that first year, and he really outdueled LeBron, I think leaving that series, people were like, “Wow, that guy was just better than LeBron in a Finals.” And he thought that was going to be it. He never – them saying, “KD made the right move.” And instead people were like, “F— that guy. We’re still not giving it to you.” And I think I could feel it in him in the interviews, this kind of, “What else do I have to do? I just went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, and I won.”
I think you nailed it. You nailed it. It really came down to, the same reason we got Kevin in the first place was the reason we lost him. He was restless. Maybe he wanted to play a little different style. His first year with us, he was a sponge, and he would ask questions constantly. What about this situation? What do I do here? It was a very different style of play, and he was playing with different players. And so I think he embraced it and he enjoyed it. And that team was unstoppable between the ball movement and the off-ball movement of cutting players, guys who were setting screens for each other. With the isolation brilliance of Kevin, the team was unstoppable.
We were getting great shots every time down the floor, because they were – everybody was so unselfish. And they were so gifted. Klay had some monster games where everybody is concerned with Steph and KD, as they should be. And all of a sudden, Klay’s coming off a weakside pin. We had so many smart players, too – guys like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West, Zaza. Screeners, ball movers, guys who understood how to play.
So, to get back to Kevin, the following year, in 17-18, we lost some of that. And it started to drift. And I felt like Kevin started to drift. And my feeling was he started to get restless, like “This is all there is? We won the title last year. We’re rolling again this year. But whatever it is I’m searching for, I’m still not finding it.”
I definitely left the 2017 NBA Finals suspecting Durant had become the greatest player in the world. Though he had far more help, Durant significantly outplayed LeBron. Durant’s combination of talent, athleticism, basketball intelligence, role and hunger to win his first title intersected so beautifully at that point in his career.
That was always going to be difficult to recreate.
Maybe Durant’s concerns about his place in the game – especially relative to LeBron – further complicated the situation. Durant definitely didn’t receive much public credit for his championship. He was widely criticized for taking the easy route by leaving the Thunder for the already-elite Warriors.
By his second season in Golden State, Durant no longer appeared driven by a title pursuit. That goal almost seemed too easy. Most onlookers certainly treated a Warriors championship as a forgone conclusion. (Golden State did repeat in 2018.) Durant spent time experimenting with his individual game. Now with the Nets, he wants to work even more on his individual skills.
It’s almost as if people spent years judging players by championships then changed the rules on Durant when he took a drastic step to get himself a ring. Not only did he not get the usual acclaim, he got criticized for how he won a title. After that, it’s understandable he found a new focus.
I’m unsure how happy Durant ever was with the Warriors. His tenure started with sullenness and reached real bitterness.
Hopefully, he finds whatever he’s seeking in Brooklyn.