Few athletes in the last year or so have been as analyzed, psycho- and otherwise, as Kevin Durant.
His motives and motivations, his place in an already-formed basketball universe and how much intends to change it more to his liking, his past and his future. Who is he, what does he want, why does he want it and why does he spend so much time in our heads . . . In an era of rampant overthinking, he has been among the most rampantly overthought.
But in the reverb of his 51-point performance Thursday in Golden State’s 131-128 overtime loss to Toronto, his purpose as a Warrior suddenly became clear, or clearer. He’s serving the greater good the best way he knows how while Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are inactive (though that is about to change), and that we do a disservice by regarding him as we often do – as Not Quite A Founding Father, and Not Quite With The Program.
The Warriors went from being romanticized in 2015 as the Littlest Engine Who Could Do The Most to being scorned in 2017 as the new bully on the block, buying bigger boots to better stomp the world around it – all because they dared to lure Durant from Oklahoma City. The Warriors changed basketball, yes, but they also changed ideas on roster construction, asset allocation and general franchise building.
And not all those changes have spun well for them. Durant has become a lightning rod for not only his own foibles but the tiresome inevitability of the Warriors, and because of that, his motives and his future are dissected with an almost maniacal glee. Even Thursday’s performance, which created a new sense of wonder about him, got spun as “See, he needs the ball and that screws up what they do.”
But maybe we’ve been wrong about this all along. Maybe he isn’t trying to change the Warriors to conform to his view of the game at all, but has, in Curry’s absence, concluded that the way he can help the Warriors is to do what he knows best, in a system in which he is the nucleus and everyone else plays off him. Maybe he’s not trying to redefine the team he’s on or enhance his desirability on the open market or surreptitiously make the Warriors less Curry-centric.
Maybe all he’s doing is pitching in at an extraordinarily high volume until the status quo is restored.
Yes, he may be a bit high-maintenance sensitivity-wise, and yes, his on-court concepts may not exactly mesh with those of the pre- and non-Durant Warriors. But maybe this isn’t some evil plot to be the logical inheritor to the throne in the House Of LeBron, where Durant becomes the center of all attention whether or not his team can follow him.
Maybe this is just simpler than all of that. Maybe he became the guy on this team because it needed his gifts delivered his way while waiting for Curry and Green. Maybe his way isn’t always the old Warrior way, and maybe a full season of this wouldn’t translate into a championship, but we wouldn’t know that unless it happened that way, and either way, the Warriors needed Durant done Durant’s way.
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Now that is presumably over for awhile. Curry will be back for Saturday’s game in Detroit, and those 33 minutes and 20 shots and five threes and time with the ball are coming from somewhere. Durant will adjust back to not being the 40-a-night guy because the Warriors when complete help him more than his own raw numbers.
At least that’s the way it should play, and the way it has played. The Warriors didn’t win two championships despite Durant, but with him, and the Warriors get that as much as he does. At least we’ll find out if that is still the case; three straight 40-pieces are rare enough even these days, and they can be heady things when placed in the wrong brainpan.
The guess here, though, is that Durant will not demand that the team change for him upon Curry’s return, or Green’s after that. Too much is at stake on too many fronts, and if he leaves in July to reinvent himself again, well, it isn’t like he hasn’t done it before. His legacy will take care of itself. The more immediate task is to grab one more ring and then decide if he’d like to run his own jewelry store.