NBA Finals — Is Kevin Durant the Distraction the Warriors Don’t Need?

Date | AuthorCharles Jay

Last Updated: 2019-05-30

I don’t know if I’m the only one who thinks the whole situation surrounding Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors is stranger than anyone is letting on. But it’s added some color to the festivities as they drive toward a title.

That the Warriors were able to blow past the Portland Trail Blazers in four games has given rise to the idea that they can win the NBA Finals and a third consecutive world championship without him. And you know what? They probably can.

This seems disquieting to some people, including Durant.

When you win five straight games (including the clincher against Houston) while missing the guy who was leading all playoff scorers (at 34.2 ppg), this is the kind of subject that is going to come up. And it appeared to have come to a head with comments by Seth Curry of the Blazers (who also happens to be Steph Curry’s brother), who pointed out publicly that the Warriors move the ball around quicker without Durant in the lineup and therefore are more difficult to defend.

We can argue about whether that is true, but I understand the kid’s point.

Durant is one of those guys who can sometimes be referred to as a “ball-stopper” in the respect that he will go into a lot of isolation and make the plays himself and too often has his teammates standing around, with less ball movement.

And that is counter-intuitive with the kind of “brand” the Warriors have established. They have regularly been among the league leaders in assists, and this culture is perhaps best illustrated by this mind-blowing factoid: there have been 17 instances during this post-season where a team has posted at least 30 assists in a game, and Golden State has accounted for eight of them.

The younger Curry took great pains in conceding that Golden State was not necessarily a better team without Durant, but that seems to be the way everybody is interpreting his remarks. Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and yes, Durant himself all snapped at him. Members of the media also piled on, as the ABC/ESPN announcing team of Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson pooh-poohed the notion as silly.

But such an idea was never brought up. The Warriors are not as good a team without Durant in the long run.

This, however, is not a long run situation. All they have to do is win four games against the Toronto Raptors.

By the way, here are your numbers, with reduced juice, as they are posted at BetAnySports on Game 1 (9:05 PM ET on Thursday on ABC – from Toronto):

Toronto Raptors -1 (-109)
Golden State Warriors +1 (-101)

Over 213.5 points (-107)
Under 213.5 points (-103)

The Warriors are a -270 favorite to win the series (while Toronto is at +248).

The hyper-sensitivity surrounding these Durant-related comments indicates a real sore spot. And some of this naturally has to concern the guy’s pending free agency. Whether they like it or not, Durant’s situation has become something of a distraction; indeed, there is speculation all over the place, mostly involving possible future destinations like New York, Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

And while it may not be getting in the way as much as Kyrie Irving’s “one-foot-out-the-door” episode in Boston, it’s there nonetheless, hovering over the proceedings.

Nobody with the Golden State organization has been all that forthcoming about Durant’s injury. He had suffered a calf strain, which looked to be rather minor at first but has turned out to be worse than expected……. we suppose.

He’s been sitting over three weeks. And perhaps there’s been no urgency for him to return, since this team hasn’t been in trouble. But he wasn’t practicing. He’s not playing Thursday night, and may not play Sunday either. He made the trip north of the border, but we just don’t know for sure.

Some media members have been asking whether Durant has played his last game as a Warrior. That seems overly dramatic, but maybe, at this moment, it might not be a bad question at all.

Listen – as a free agent, Durant may hit the jackpot this summer. Players have agents. They can be a little pushy. They put pressure on team management. If this injury is worse than has been reported, and the Warriors put him into action in a condition where he’s far less than 100%, it could exacerbate his ailment, which, who knows, could make him less of a commodity on the open market. And if the Warriors were interested in re-signing him (a possibility, obviously), they’d have some interests to protect in such a case as well.

I’m not saying there is an abundance of evidence with which I make this observation, but I get the sense that, taking the Golden State ownership/management as a whole, there’s a part of them that would like to see the team win this title without Durant. It would most certainly inform their decision going into the off-season, and that knowledge would give them some leverage.

Allow me to suggest that the worst case scenario for the Dubs’ brain trust – aside from an outright loss to Toronto – would be to fall behind early in the series and have to turn to Durant (priced at +1500 to win Finals MVP at BetAnySports, due to his uncertainty) to rescue them. Leverage would go out the window.

If nothing else, this is a team that is resolute. They are going to do what is necessary to promote and preserve the atmosphere they think is most conducive to long-term success. Yes, they have overwhelmed opponents with their talent, for the most part. But chemistry is a very huge thing for them. And I’m not quite sure Durant has fit into that concept 100%.

The fact that he’s had the latitude to opt out of his contract each year has been a source of tension, because while some teammates may not have questioned his effort, they’ve questioned his commitment to the future. I mean, these guys want to win it EVERY YEAR. You saw some of that tension manifest itself at times this season. And these guys in the Warriors front office are ultimately not going to sacrifice harmony for the sake of anything for very long.

Do you remember Monta Ellis? For several years, he was the top offensive force the Warriors had. He was also the team’s most popular player. But he indicated that he couldn’t play alongside Steph Curry. Previous owner Chris Cohan refused to trade him, because he was afraid of how the fans would react. But after Joe Lacob took over as principal owner, he shipped Ellis off to Milwaukee. As far as he was concerned, Curry was too important to the team’s long-term goals, and Ellis’ attitude did not promote chemistry. He was roundly booed for his actions at first, but Lacob was perfectly willing to take the abuse to do what was in the best interests of the franchise. And we’re not exaggerating for one minute when we say that.

So in answering the question in my headline, as all the rumors about Durant are swirling, don’t expect the Warriors to be all that affected by it. They’ll win Game 1, and maybe the next three after that, whether they have KD or not.

They’ll still overwhelm the opposition with talent.

They’ll be the toughest team mentally.

And they’ve still got the most chemistry. After all, that’s the way they’ve been built.

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