The Warriors won the 2015 championship without Kevin Durant. They were again the NBA’s best team in 2016 without Durant (taking nothing away from the Cavaliers, who beat Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals and deserve all the credit for it). The Warriors just won the 2022 title without Durant.
Golden State’s excellence both preceding and succeeding Durant’s tenure led J.J. Redick to suggest Durant doesn’t get enough credit for helping the Warriors win championships in 2017 and 2018.
I don’t think the outside world gave Kevin enough credit. I think if you came within our organization, Kevin was given all the credit.
I think, for us, within the organization, we did everything we could to make Kevin comfortable. We did everything we could to let him know, “Just like this is our home, this your home, too, brother.” But the outside world didn’t. The outside world, “He’s joining a team that won 73 games. He’s joining a team that already won a championship and blah, blah, blah.
But the reality is, I don’t think that team wins another championship if Kevin doesn’t come. Now, you may say, “Oh, yeah, but y’all won the fourth one without Kevin.” But there’s a gap in there where teams started to figure us out.
We would not have beat the Cavs coming back around without Kevin. And here’s why: Teams had figured us out. And I personally don’t think at that point Steph Curry had figured out, “I’m going to get a bucket whenever I want to.” I don’t think he was capable of that yet. I think he was still growing into that.
We got to a point where we needed to be able to give someone the ball that can just go get a bucket. And Kevin was already there. I don’t think Steph was there yet. So, it gets us through those two years. We get those two championships. But while we’re doing that, Steph is continuing to work and evolve and then – most importantly – becoming the strongest dude on our team. And to this day, he’s the strongest guy on the team. And that allowed him to scored whenever he wanted, because you can no longer bump him off his path.
The Warriors gave Durant a lot of credit. Definitely more than the public, which reviled him for taking a shortcut to a ring. Stephen Curry particularly went out of his way to make Durant feel comfortable.
But Golden State wasn’t as warm and welcoming to Durant as Green says.
Even after Durant pledged to re-sign in 2018, some Warriors employees doubted his sincerity. At the 2018 championship parade, Golden State general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald joked about Durant not being as entrenched as other Warriors – a sensitive subject. Some Golden State players expressed frustration an injured Durant didn’t return sooner during the 2019 playoffs (just before he returned and suffered a catastrophic injury).
And most infamously, Green told Durant during their final season together, roughly: We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.
Durant did leave, for the Nets. Green said he wanted to prove the Warriors could win another championship without Durant, which they accomplished this year.
So, why is Green emphasizing how much Durant meant to Golden State rather than taking a victory lap on behalf of himself, Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Kerr – i.e., the people who could actually argue they were essential to all four of Golden State’s recent titles? I see a few, potentially overlapping possibilities:
- Green fancies himself as a bold truthteller. This might be how he actually feels.
- Green spent a lot of time recruiting Durant to Golden State. Green probably doesn’t want that effort to have been unnecessary.
- Green doesn’t want to be known for his infamous blowup at Durant. Anything to distance himself from the message he delivered that night (Again: We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.)
- Green and Durant reconciled last year. Green made a couple comments this month that were construed, fairly or not, as critical of Durant (including one that generated a response from Durant). Green could be using flattery to get/stay on good terms with Durant.
But let’s take Green’s assessment at face value and address the underlying question:
Would Golden State have beaten Cleveland in the 2017 and 2018 Finals without Durant?
Green is right: Durant’s isolation scoring gave the Warriors an extremely helpful counter as opponents adjusted to Kerr’s motion offense. Curry hadn’t yet grown into the player who won 2022 NBA Finals MVP.
But the Warriors dominated in the 2017 playoffs and were pretty darned good in 2018, too. They didn’t have to be as good as they were to win championships. They had margin for error.
Winning titles obviously would’ve been harder without Durant, an all-time great player near the peak of his powers. But Golden State might have done it – or might have fallen short. I definitely don’t share Green’s certainty about how it would’ve played out.
Of course, the Cavs weren’t the Warriors’ only competition those years.
In 2018, the Rockets were way better than the Cavaliers. Houston pushed Golden State to Game 7 in the Western Conference finals. With a weak supporting cast around LeBron James, Cleveland got swept by the Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals.
Would Golden State have topped the Rockets without Durant those years?
Yeah. We was beating them for sure. That team was never going to beat us. It just was not going to happen.”
Green will say the Warriors wouldn’t have won titles without Durant. That’s an implicit compliment to LeBron, which Green doesn’t mind giving.
But Green giving an inch to loathed Houston? No way.