“But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
The reaction to Durant’s decision was swift, with some on social media outlets predictably awarding Golden State the 2016-17 title, and others scorning Durant for leaving Oklahoma City and seeking an easier route to his first championship in the Bay Area.
In that respect, Durant was receiving the same criticism LeBron James endured when he left Cleveland, where he initially failed to win a title, to form a Big Three in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
That threesome did win two titles, including one in which they beat Durant’s Thunder, and James ultimately returned to Cleveland to win a third. But James’s roots are in Ohio, and there were compelling reasons for him to eventually come home. The notion that Durant, who is from the Washington area, might someday return to Oklahoma City seems a lot more far-fetched.
Durant has been among the league’s premier scoring threats and best all-around players since being taken with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. The Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in his second season, and Durant won a scoring championship in his third — his first of four such titles in five seasons. He won the league Most Valuable Player Award in 2013-14.
Durant’s talents run the gamut. Listed as a 6-foot-9 small forward, he is most likely closer to 7 feet, and he is capable of playing anything from shooting guard to power forward on offense, while being both quick enough and strong enough to keep up with players ranging from point guards to power forwards on defense.
For the Warriors, Durant will fill a specific need as a player who is far more adept at getting to the basket than anyone on their current roster, a flaw exposed by both the Thunder and the Cavaliers in the recent playoffs, where perimeter defense and a great deal of physical contact seemed to shut down the team’s strategy that involved living and dying at the 3-point line.
The threat Durant brings, of someone who can just as easily penetrate as he can knock down outside shots, would very likely free things up a great deal for Thompson and Curry, who have rarely needed much help in that regard but could, almost terrifyingly, now become even more effective.
To accommodate Durant’s salary, the Warriors will have to make some roster moves that probably include renouncing their rights to the restricted free agents Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, and possibly trading another high-priced player, such as center Andrew Bogut or the versatile Iguodala, their valuable sixth man.
Bogut would potentially be a candidate to be released using the league’s stretch provision, which lessens the impact on the salary cap. Once the dust settles, the Warriors may also be forced to part ways with some other veteran free agents like Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights.
With depth having been a key part of the Warriors’ strength in numbers approach, all of these potential moves could create new challenges for Coach Steve Kerr.
There will also be an adjustment period for Durant, who has never played in a system with as much ball movement and is unaccustomed to the team-first approach, in which Golden State’s players have often been asked to sacrifice personal statistics for the good of the group.
Still, for Durant to sign with a team already loaded with stars is likely an indication that he is willing to adjust in order to find the ultimate team success that has eluded him thus far.
Like so many things about the N.B.A., the scramble to sign the league’s most elite free agents has become something of a pop culture phenomenon in recent years, with players like Durant accepting suitors like so much eligible royalty.
Durant chose to conduct his talks with various teams in the Hamptons, a lavish Long Island summer retreat known more for its celebrity culture than for its basketball and about as far removed from Oklahoma City as possible.
And his deliberations, which lasted only a few days, still seemed like an eternity, given the nature of the N.B.A. free-agency period, which is nothing if not frenzied.
Teams were permitted to begin contacting players at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, and many deals were struck before most people woke up the next morning. But Durant had the luxury of setting his own timetable because he was, by far, the biggest catch.
N.B.A. teams tried various ways to impress him. The Boston Celtics were reported to have arrived in the Hamptons with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as part of their entourage.
The Warriors’ delegation to the Hamptons was reported to have included Curry, Thompson and Green.
The Thunder, of course, tried to convince Durant to stay. For years, he had been paired with Russell Westbrook, another game-changing talent, to form one of the most potent one-two punches the game has seen. But the team failed to fully capitalize on its talent, making just one appearance in the N.B.A. finals. In three other seasons, the Thunder bowed out in the Western Conference finals.
It is the last of those three that will linger painfully in Oklahoma City, especially now that Durant is gone. The Thunder had a three-games-to-one lead against the Warriors but could not find a way to a fourth victory, even when they led for most of Game 6 in their arena.
Had they managed to vanquish the Warriors, the Thunder might have found themselves favored against the Cavaliers in the finals. Instead, having lost, Durant and his Thunder teammates faced hard questions about their collective futures, with several years left in Durant’s prime, but with his 30s inevitably approaching.
Facing all that, Durant decided to try something new rather than continue to try to make things work with the Thunder.