Golden State Warriors

Warriors’ dynasty revisited: Did Kevin Durant’s failure to leave his past behind cost Golden State?

Kevin Durant returns to the Bay Area on Saturday night, and he brought his new friends, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, along with him.

Durant’s superstar-laden Nets are the story of the moment, but the history between Durant and the Warriors is a story for all time. The former two-time NBA Finals MVP in Golden State has a past with the club that was as brief as it was spectacular.

He joined Steph Curry, Klay Thomson and Draymond Green to form one of the best teams in NBA history, and then he was gone, leaving via free agency after some wild times in the blue and gold. There were moments of joy, pain, anger and everything in between during the incredible three-year run that produced back-to-back titles.

Much of the consternation related to the run was brought on by Durant’s decision to join Curry’s crew at all. His choice had much of the NBA either calling Durant weak — as the Warriors had just won 73 games in a season and defeated Durant himself on the way to their own defeat in the finals — or crying foul for unfairness’ sake.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic covered it all, and he wrote a fantastic rundown of the era’s 10 most impactful moments. It’s a fantastic read for any sports fan, and you can learn about all 10 moments here.

But I’ll share one that I found particularly interesting. Slater reminded me about Durant’s “burner” incident. This was when Durant took to Twitter to defend his decision to join the Warriors. Only thing is, he did so in the third person, making it clear that Durant had anonymous Twitter accounts that he used to defend himself. In other words, he hadn’t left the past behind him.

And his incident came much later than I remembered. It occurred just a week before the Durant’s second season with the Warriors began. They had just won the championship in their first year together, and the present was incredibly promising. Durant and Curry were only 29 years old. Green and Thompson were younger, at 27 years old.

That’s pretty nuts. That core had the potential to dominate for an NBA eternity. But Durant was still busy dwelling on the past. And when it became public that he was going to great lengths to defend his choice to random people on the internet, attention remained on the initial choice, not the potential for greatness on the court.

Here’s part of what Slater wrote. He contends that Golden State’s lackluster play — for them — during the regular season that followed stemmed from this incident. (When he says “That,” he’s referring to the youth and talent of that team.)

That — all context stripped — should’ve been the best version of the dynasty Warriors, maybe the greatest team ever. But circumstances had changed. The motivation had waned. The team defense slipped. Durant’s devotion to the off-ball action decreased.

External conversations about him still revolved around his legacy and past professional choices, not the growing dynasty that still had a Durant-fueled path to league domination for the next decade. Highlighted by the burner account incident regarding his free-agent decision from 15 months earlier, he was involved in those retrospective debates.

The Athletic

Seriously. Kevin Durant. A week before the season? The decision had been made a full year earlier, and the Warriors were the best basketball team perhaps of all time. What if Durant had not revealed his childish behavior on the internet, which motivated all the goons in the NBA world — of whom Durant clearly paid attention — to remain focused on Durant’s controversial decision?

Would the dynasty have been different? Would it have continued to build constructively, or would it still have disintegrated as it did in the end? Would Warriors fans have put Durant on a mantle next to Curry, as many never quite could?

It’s impossible to know. But I do wish that Durant could have let his past go. His tenure made for some brilliant basketball, some of the best the world has ever seen. If he had foucesed on the fruits of his choice rather than outside noise, Durant might still be in a Warriors uniform.

But now, he’s with the Nets, and the Warriors need a win. Durant will receive a hero’s welcome, and rightfully so. There will be a lot of talent on the floor, but for me, it will simply be a reminder of when all the relevant talent in the NBA — seemingly — was on the Warriors roster, of all that was accomplished by those teams, and all that might have been.

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