- “I don’t even think that’s even close to being a true story." Kevin Durant and the Warriors open up about the LeBron report and the insane possibility of the best player in the world joining the NBA's best team.
Warriors GM Bob Myers is a worrier by nature, forever envisioning worst–case scenarios. This is a man who occasionally leaves Oracle Arena and paces through the darkness of the parking lot when games get too tense; who says his fantasy is to one day attend a game purely as a fan, drinking a beer like all those relaxed-looking humans he sees in the crowd. “I’m not worried about not caring enough” Myers once told me. ”I’m worried about caring too much.”
So on Thursday he sat at a table at the Warriors practice facility for his annual trade deadline media availability, doing his best to rustle up some anxiety. “People may not believe this, but we have pressure,” he said. He then upgraded that to “constant pressure,” describing the outside response to every Warriors loss along the lines of "a catastrophe.”
It was a noble effort but still a tough sell. Perhaps no team in modern NBA history has had as little to worry about as these Warriors. They are young, healthy, in their prime, well-run, well-coached, deep, and seem to actually like each other, which counts for something these days. Steph Curry is in MVP form and was just named Western Conference Player of the Month. Four Warriors are on the All-Star team (again) and three have a credible shot at joining the exclusive 40-50-90 club. Kevin Durant is making a case for Defensive Player of the Year—that is, if Draymond Green doesn’t win it again. Their excellence has made covering them, in some respects, monotonous. News flash: Historically talented team that plays well together wins again!
Thursday at least provided a new topic to discuss. Perhaps you heard the report that LeBron James would be open to a free–agent meeting with the Warriors this summer? For his part, Myers attempted a preemptive strike, beginning his session by reminding reporters that he isn’t allowed to talk about players on other teams (which led a reporter instead asking about “a hypothetical 6’8 power forward”). Steve Kerr opted for his preferred communication mode, sarcasm, suggesting he just write a check to Adam Silver when someone mentioned LeBron.
Kevin Durant had the most entertaining response, though. “Bullshit,” he said when asked about his first reaction to the report.
“I don’t even think that’s even close to being a true story,” he told The Crossover. “That’s the nature of the game right now. It’s moreso about free agency, the business side of basketball, than it is about the real game. Nothing’s far-fetched when it comes to stories and headlines and clicks. It should be about the game and it’s getting father and farther away from the real game.”
Fair enough, so let’s talk about it. Especially because it’s highly unlikely that LeBron ends up on the Warriors, who by all indications would prefer a younger superstar like, say, Anthony Davis if they decide to do something drastic. There's also the matter of the various logistical machinations a LeBron acquisition would require and the fact that it just seems wrong for the best player in history to join what is already arguably the best team in history.
So, the game. This year’s Warriors don’t have the gaudy record of two years ago, or the buzz of last season, but the sense of inevitability is palpable, especially now that the Cavs have seemingly imploded. Who else is there? The Celtics have matched up well against Golden State this year, and Brad Stevens is an excellent coach, but they are young, and still have holes. The Spurs are weathering uncharacteristic drama, and while it’s wise to never underestimate Pop, legitimate title contention seems far-fetched, especially considering Kawhi Leonard’s lingering, mysterious, injury. Houston provides the most credible threat but they are still in year one of trying to mesh two superstars, and any team that relies so much on one player—say, one who puts up a 60 point triple-double—may perhaps be in danger of lacking the ideal balance come playoff time.
More broadly, it feels like most everything in the league these days occurs as a direct or indirect response to the Warriors. Perhaps the credit (blame?) goes equally to Sam Hinkie. Either way, we’ve entered the boom-or-bust era, when anything less than title contention means you should blow it up. Gone is the idea that being a perennial playoff contender has its own value, or might be a goal in itself. Everyone is trying to build a team not to compete with the second or third seed but to topple Golden State. There’s no middle anymore. (Zach Lowe wrote insightfully about this last week). It’s why the Clippers traded Blake, and why the Pistons acquired him. Why Oklahoma City is a mishmash of All-Stars, why Paul is in Houston, why LeBron-to-the-Warriors is even considered remotely credible. We’ve entered the If You Can’t Beat Em’ Join Em Age. And everyone wants to join the Warriors.
Is this good for the league. Maybe? Probably not? Who knows. But this isn’t for Myers and the Warriors to concern themselves with. Instead, they are already preparing for the next superteam threat or further stratification of the league. To remain ahead you must think big. Which is why we hear talk about Davis. Just as, back in 2015, Warriors execs I spoke with were already targeting Durant and, at the time, Marc Gasol, even as the team was in the process of winning a title.
Regardless, even as superteams may rise and form, the Warriors retain an advantage others cannot match: continuity and chemistry. The core of this Golden State squad has been together for up to five years. Durant is on year two and doesn’t appear in a hurry to go anywhere. Role players like David West and ZaZa Pachulia know how good they have it—and you get the impression they’d play for just about any reasonable salary just to stay here. So on the team rolls.
Thursday's practice provided a glimpse of that bond. On this afternoon, JaVale McGee is over to the side diligently shooting threes, just in case that helps him earn a few more minutes in the modern NBA (and because, well, shooting threes is fun). Analytics guru Sammy Gelfand is sprinting after rebounds on another court, feeding Shaun Livingston. Overhead, Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” blares from the speakers so loud it’s hard to hear the media sessions, which, come to think of it, might be on purpose. Meanwhile, Steph Curry is directing Bruce Fraser to feed him on the baseline for turnaround, fadeaway, one-hand push shots, both right and left-handed, because apparently that’s what you practice when you’ve mastered all the other shots. And, over on the mats, Kerr is using a foam roller on his hip and cackling at something Myers just said.
The overall vibe is of a team that is comfortable with who they are. That’s not to say there isn’t drama. Though, often enough, it comes from outside the bubble. Like, say, Trump and the White House invite. Or, on this day, from the media. While a number of us are interviewing Durant, two cameramen get into a scuffle over space, trying to make sure they get the shot of Durant commenting on LeBron, because, presumably, it could be Big News. One thing leads to another and it escalates beyond the usual scrum shoving.
“I’ll knock you the f--- out,” one of the cameramen said to the other.
At which point all of us stopped and turned, including Durant. Fortunately, an intrepid reporter stepped in between the two men.
With order momentarily restored, Durant continued. “See, look, like, what are we doing?” he said. “You know what I’m saying. Like, what’s goin' on here really? What’s going on? We talking about basketball. So that should be the most important thing.”
And, in a way, he’s right. But, as long as the Warriors are this good, the reality is it might not be.