Starting a new job can be fraught with dangers. Once, my company had a new hire who just happened to start on the day we went to our annual end-of-summer A’s game. By the end of the day, he had gotten drunk, insulted a co-worker to the point that she cried, and nearly broke his ankle trying to slide down the railing coming out of the Coliseum.
Not a great start.
The Golden State Warriors have a “new guy” starting work soon, but his performance this summer makes it pretty unlikely that his first day on the job will be anything like my poor coworker from my story above.
Kevin Durant is immensely talented; literally one of the very best basketball players on the planet currently. He just led Team USA to an Olympic gold medal, scoring 30 of the team’s 96 points en route to the gold medal. But I’m not here to talk stats. Obviously he’s good, and will continue to be good while in a Warriors uniform. No, this story is about Durant as a person.
He’s going to come into work in Oakland as “the new guy” soon, and if you want to know how he’ll fit in here, it doesn’t start at the Olympics.
Seven years after coming into the league, Kevin Durant won the MVP, but the most famous part was unquestionably him telling his mom that she was “the real MVP.”
En route to his MVP award in Oklahoma City (and previously Seattle), he was the franchise cornerstone that graciously made room for a guy like Russell Westbrook to shine. It’s this deferential style of leadership that will make his integration in Golden State so seamless.
Durant led Team USA in scoring, averaging (Per 36 mins) 24.4 pts on .745 true shooting; 6.3 reb; 4.4 ast (h/t Sleepy). More importantly perhaps, he’s doing it quietly, and I think that this heralds a smooth entry into the Golden State rotation.
After his 26-point performance for team USA the other night in the gold-qualifying match he said, “I told myself before I left my room, I’m at my best if I don’t care if we win or lose. It might be different for other players. But for me, I’m more free and aggressive, and it’s way more fun for me if I don’t care about the outcome. I know if I go out there and be who I am, the outcome will dictate itself.”
This is new for Durant. And us. But just like he says in that previous quote, he doesn’t need to force anything. He can just be who he is. His natural fit here is perfect.
There have been thousands of words written about the concern that “there is only one ball.” And although it’s a bit of an over-simplification, it’s undeniable that there will be some issues this team will need to figure out next season and that these concerns are probably shared (at least slightly) by Kerr and the front office.
So. Should we be concerned?
The obvious answer is a resounding “hell naw”. I mean, this is a guy who iso-played his way into the history books as one of the most efficient scorers in the league (ignore that Curry guy in the chart from 538’s “You Can Never Have Too Much Curry” from Benjamin Morris back in December). And this is the Golden State offense, led by the paradoxically humble yet cocky Steph Curry (you can see him on that graph as well) and his stoic robot-like partner Klay Thompson. The team has improved each year under head coach Steve Kerr, who has successfully implemented a system predicated on ball movement and spacing.
So as we replace the disappearing Harrison Barnes with the one-man wrecking crew that is KFD, next season I think the only real question that’s interesting right now is, “Will it go disastrously wrong somehow?!”
The Warriors have changed beyond simply adding Kevin Durant since we last saw them: in spite of no better options, the Dubs let go of fan favorites Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights. They let go of a bunch of other guys too, but I think the release of two critical bench players who could have been willing to play for the veteran minimum is reflective of the bigger concern about there only being one ball. Both of those guys are gunners and I think it’s fair to wonder if they were let go by the Dubs this year for exactly the purpose of letting KD be who he is. He’s going to make the right play. He did it in OKC too, but now there’s a difference.
What about the idea that Steph Curry will have an issue with losing some of the spotlight to Durant?
Myers: “I think that he’s not built that way, he’s not an insecure guy, he’s not an arrogant guy, but he’s very secure in who he is without needing additional confirmation from media or friends. He knows what he can do, he’s had to be that way to become who he is. And I think at some point in your life, he has all the money he needs. He’s got huge endorsement deals, he’s going to make even more money in the NBA, but he doesn’t need any more money. He has the individual recognition, whether it’s commercials, MVPs. He’s got one championship. At a certain point in a player’s career, you’ve checked all these boxes. What’s the only box left to check? It’s really championships and Hall of Fame. That’s it. Once you reach that rarefied air where it’s ‘yea I could win another MVP’…”
Radnich: “He could quit today and be in the Hall of Fame.”
Myers: “He could! So what do you want if you’re him and you put yourself in his position? I think you want to enjoy your life, you want figure out what you want out of your life, but you want to win.
Yeah, this is new for everyone but just like our Small Ball Death Squad lineups I think there’s something sneakishly deadly about this roster next season. Make no mistake: there is a LOT of pressure on this team next season. But just like Durant said last weekend, if they go out there and be themselves the results will dictate themselves.
Durant isn’t going to go sliding down that long railing outside the Coliseum. I’m pretty sure he could make it all the way down if he wanted to, but that’s just not who he is.