Kevin Durant joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors felt to many basketball followers like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing he was joining forces with Apple. Fair or not, the moment Durant chose to join the Warriors, leaving a trail of broken dreams and angry NBA colleagues, he chose to become a villain in the eyes of many.
Outside of Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook’s psyche, nowhere is that villainy projected more on Durant than in the Hub of Hoops. Celtics fans will finally get what they wanted Friday, when the Warriors visit the Celtics: Durant playing on the parquet. It’s just not the way they envisioned it, and they’ll let Durant know that in boisterous fashion.
Durant doesn’t deserve the black hat. He could have handled his OKC exit more gracefully, and the optics of leaving for the team that beat him in the Western Conference finals weren’t good. But he doesn’t have a responsibility to do what is best for competitive balance. He’s not the commissioner.
And who wouldn’t want to play with a team that plays the most elegant, high-scoring, and harmonious hoops in the NBA? Durant isn’t some self-absorbed superstar searching for a shortcut to a championship. He’s a basketball connoisseur with an appreciation for the game’s finer things.
Undoubtedly, Durant got the hopes of Celtics fans for banner No. 18 high with his Fourth of July weekend free agent flirtation with the team. The Celtics pulled out all the stops courting KD in the Hamptons.
They had Tom Brady pitch him on the virtues of living as a Boston sports legend. They had Brad Stevens offer a window into his beautiful basketball mind. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and other Celtics touted Boston’s Basketball Brotherhood. The Green shared trade secrets for how they became the only team to defeat both NBA Finals finalists, the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, on their home floors last season. They brought . . . Kelly Olynyk!
Somehow Durant was able to turn down the Celtics’ self-aggrandizing regular-season road victories and the allure of playing with Olynyk to join a team that won an NBA title in 2015, set the record for regular-season wins last season, and finished one win shy of being back-to-back champions.
Get over it, people. It was like choosing between joining a garage band and the Beatles.
One player who subscribes to the Durant-as-villain theory is Crowder. No one took the Celtics’ rejection harder. Crowder told MassLive.com in July that Durant’s decision was “like a slap in the face for us, basically.”
He lamented that the Celtics had shared their strategy for guarding Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with Durant only for him to take the secret sauce to Oakland. “That team is for sure the villain of the league,” Crowder said.
Durant told ESPN he respects Crowder but respectfully disagrees with his characterization of the four-time scoring champion’s decision. If Crowder is able to return from an ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last seven games, he could get the Enes Kanter treatment from KD.
Admittedly, Durant to the Warriors does feel like overkill at times. It was sad and a bit unseemly to watch Durant torment and trash-talk his former Thunder teammates during a 39-point effort in Golden State’s 122-96 thumping of Oklahoma City on Nov. 3. Durant doesn’t do villainy well.
As the late, great Wilt Chamberlain said, “Nobody roots for Goliath.” Golden State is Goliath on HGH.
The Dubs have gone from the NBA’s apotheosis of stylish, unselfish play and the beloved team of basketball hipsters everywhere to the Death Star in sneakers.
But there has been an adjustment and integration process for Durant.
Last season, the Warriors won their first 24 games, the last of which was a double-overtime thriller against the Celtics at TD Garden. This year, they come to Causeway Street with a 9-2 record and inchoate chemistry.
Durant leads the Warriors in scoring at 27.9 points per game and is only taking one shot fewer per game than he did last season in Oklahoma City.
However, the Warriors have dished out 30 or more assists and shot better than 50 percent from the field in their last five games, a franchise record. It’s the longest such streak in the league since the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls. During the streak, they’re averaging 123.4 points per game and 33.2 assists per game.
The Warriors assisted on a league-leading 68 percent of their made baskets last season. This season that number is 70.9 percent. The Warriors’ offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) last season was 114.5, according to Basketball-Reference.com. This season it’s 116.5 through 11 games.
Interestingly, though, the Warriors’ offensive rating is slightly higher when Durant is off the court (114.8) than when he is on it (113.3). When Durant is on the court, the Warriors assist on 69 percent of their baskets. When he is on the bench, that number jumps to 76 percent.
So there are still adjustments to be made to blend Durant’s considerable skills into the Warriors Way.
Many fans, including Celtics ones here, are hoping the unholy union of Durant and the Warriors ends in disappointment and discontent.
That it serves as a parable that prevents other high-profile free agents from fleeing to form super teams — unless it’s their team.
Unlikely; that Shaq-in-“Kazaam”-sized genie is out of the bottle.
The Warriors are simply the evolution of the super team. Golden State has four All-Stars instead of the customary three, a trend popularized by the New Big Three Celtics of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
Great teams are polarizing by nature. We’ve seen that rooting against the New York Yankees and rooting for the Patriots, who have had a few ring-chasers (see: Revis, Darrelle).
Durant playing for the Warriors might not be good for the NBA.
It has made him the Bad Guy of the 2016-17 season, but it doesn’t make him a bad guy.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.