For three years the NBA has been shrouded in darkness by the spectre of Golden State.
Since Kevin Durant‘s move from Oklahoma in the summer of 2016, the Golden State Warriors have convincingly won the NBA Finals each year. Beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, in 2017 and 2018. Golden State also have a good chance of getting their hands on the Naismith trophy for the third time in a row, the fourth in five years. However, this year it’s different. There is hope for the NBA, hope that the shroud of darkness that has covered them for so many years will be lifted, by the very man who caused this dark period – Kevin Durant.
Durant’s current contract contains a player option for 2019, which means the All-Star forward can opt out of his contract and pursue free agency in the summer of 2019. Something that he will likely do.
The uncertainty about Durant’s future has been a cloud hovering over sunny Golden State all season, outside of a few rumours about locker-room disagreements and minor bust-ups, the Warriors kept chugging along and even went on eleven game win streak in January after implementing DeMarcus Cousins into their starting line-up. However, that cloud has slowly started to become a full-blown storm.
In game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Durant went down injured and was later found out to have a calf strain. Durant’s injury has become more serious than first thought. Durant ended up not playing a single minute in the Western Conference Finals against Portland, a series which the Warriors won 4-0. And it is this fact that has added fuel to the fire to the whole Durant situation.
Since Durant joined Golden State in the summer of 2016, there has been a strong narrative surrounding the team that, even whilst winning, Durant has been a detriment to the Warriors. His presence has been stifling the true potential of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. As well as the coaching brilliance of Steve Kerr.
With Durant in the line-up the Warriors play slows down, especially when Curry isn’t on the floor. Golden State tend to mirror Houston with their ISO heavy approach, with Durant as the primary ball-handler set up in isolation. This makes sense since Durant is possibly pound-for-pound the best isolation scorer in the league. However, this system also chains the explosive skill sets of Thompson, Curry and Green. Thompson, one of the greatest shooters and shooting-guards of all time, is resorted to a spot-up shooter standing in the corner when KD is on the floor.
At the core of this Durant situation is the conflict with Curry. Durant and Curry have no personal conflict, however, between the fans and on the court the players are at odds with each other. Similar to his fellow Splash Brother, when Curry and Durant are on the court together, more often than not, Curry is resorted to taking threes in transition and running around screens after a play is drawn up for him four or so times a game.
In the games that Curry has started since Durant went down, the former back-to-back MVP has scored at least 30 points in each game. When Durant is not playing and Curry has control over the team, the Warriors become a passing, moving, cutting and shooting monster. Players playing harder and for each other.
The Warriors have won 31 of their 32 games with Curry in the line-up and no Durant.
The speculation throughout the regular season, the rumours of a locker-room bust-up, friction between Draymond and Durant, the Warriors up-turn in form on the court without Durant have all contributed to Durant possibly leaving Golden State. If the Warriors beat the Raptors in the Finals without Kevin Durant, then will the sheer embarrassment force KD out of the Bay and to New York? Whatever the case, the Warriors thriving without Durant has already tarnished the legacy Durant cares so much about.