There is a very entertaining thought bubble hovering above the NBA lately. You might have seen it. It says the Golden State Warriors might actually be a better team without Kevin Durant.
We choose to call this the classic out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation.
Of course, the Warriors can be blamed for this. They have rambled effortlessly through the last two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs without Durant, who injured his calf in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets and hasn’t been back since. The Warriors are 5-0 without him.
The Warriors also won a World Championship with basically the same cast before Durant came to them three seasons ago and its almost as if that’s become more relevant than the fact they’ve won the last two with him next to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Now this: Durant is still taking it day-by-day and has already been ruled out of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. And people are pretty chill about it, backing up Las Vegas’ assertion the Dubs are heavy favorites to win a third straight title whether Durant plays again or doesn’t.
Durant has been very quiet since he was injured on May 8. Never a big fan of the media before the injury, he has taken advantage of his absence by avoiding scrums. But he broke his silence last week.
As you might expect, Durant was asked whether if agreed with the assertion the Warriors might be better, or at least just as good, without him in the lineup.
“It’s been that way since I got here,” said Durant. “It’s been that way since I got here – ‘It’s the Warriors and KD.’ I understand that, and I felt like my teammates and the organization know exactly what I’ve done here off and on the court to become a part of this culture, stamp my flag in this culture and this organization. … I know what I bring to the team, but I also know a lot of people on the outside don’t like to see us together, and I get it.”
Perhaps this entire storyline is the result of the NBA preparing for the future. Durant is an unrestricted free agent after the season and has been rumored to be heading to the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers or anyone else that needs him, can afford him and make him happy.
Imagine if the Warriors complete this championship run without the help of Durant? It certainly will help soften the blow when we goes, give the Warriors the confidence the run can and will continue without him.
Of course, if Thompson leaves too….
“It’s hard to get away from that because I watch the game, and you watch the lead-up to the games, and that’s all everybody is talking about,” Durant said. “My perspective is just, like, I want to focus on rehab, but I also want to be a fan of my teammates. I want to enjoy my teammates from a different view. A lot of those guys sit in a chair and cheer for the rest of the guys, the starting guys, and now I get an opportunity to do the same thing. I turn on the TV, and since I can’t travel with the team, all I hear is the noise.
“As a player, I think about that – I’m just like, that’s not true. That’s not facts when it comes from a basketball perspective. The competitive side of me – I also like to talk basketball as well – so if you’re going to say something like that, I’m going to engage in it. So it’s all fun, it’s all cool, but I know the real.”
If Durant is aware of the chatter, you can be certain his teammates are, as well.
“I feel like for the last three years, everybody has taken their shots and trying to nitpick or break us down or drive a wedge in our team chemistry or our togetherness – whatever the case is,” Curry said. “And even this year, it’s even been amplified even more with [Durant’s] free-agency stuff. And nobody can say anything without it getting scrutinized or criticized, or nobody can be happy when people are playing well. That’s the part, to me, that’s the most surprising. If it’s KD playing well, it’s, ‘Oh, they’re playing a different style, and it’s not as fun to watch,’ or when he’s out, and we’re winning games, it’s, ‘Oh, are we better, more fun?’ Whatever the question is, we hear it all the time.”
The realistic view is the Warriors would need Durant, perhaps the NBA’s best player, to help get past the Raptors, who played so well in their six-game romp over the Milwaukee Bucks. The NBA Finals begin on Wednesday in Toronto, a very difficult place for a road team to find success.
The problem for the Warriors seems to be Durant appears no better off than he was after originally being injured. He’s been nursed along as best as medical science can and yet he has not been cleared yet for on-court work. Who’s to know how much time Durant will need to progress from a light jog to a full-force sprint?
Durant even admitted last week the injury was far more troublesome than he expected it might be.
“I’m just taking it a second at a time,” Durant said. “Every rep we do in the weight room, I just try to focus on that rep and not try to think too far down the line. ‘Cause I don’t really know too much about this injury. I’m leaving it the hands of the team doctors. I trust the direction they’re trying to put me in.”
There’s really nothing Warriors coach Steve Kerr can do but issue the intermittent updates that have fed the media’s imagination.
“We’ll see where it goes from here,” Kerr said Monday about Durant. “This is where the fact that there’s a lot of days in between games during the Finals helps us, so we’ll see.”
Kerr wasn’t even sure Durant would be cleared to travel with the team to Toronto on Tuesday. If he can’t travel and he can’t practice, how close to returning could be possibly be?
“If he did anything on the court, it would’ve been pretty light,” Kerr said. “I know he’s been out kinda shooting some shots, but I haven’t talked to [Warriors director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] today, so I’m not exactly sure what he’s done today.”
Question is would the Raptors be better off without Drake?