- The Golden State Warriors dynasty appears to be hanging in the balance after Kevin Durant and Draymond Green got into a heated exchange that saw Green criticise Durant’s handling of his impending free agency.
- According to one report, some Warriors teammates agreed with Green’s assessment that Durant has invited more speculation and cast a cloud over the season by not shutting down free agency talk.
- Durant has signed the same “1+1” contract structure that LeBron James used with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the short-term commitments appear to be at the center of the Warriors’ tension.
Kevin Durant and Draymond Green’s on-court spat, which turned into an explicit and intense exchange about Durant’s impending free agency, is threatening to tear the Golden State Warriors apart.
After Durant criticised Green for his late-game decision-making during an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Green unleashed a tirade on Durant, reportedly calling him a “b—-” and questioning Durant’s handling of his free agency.
The Warriors suspended Green for one game on Tuesday, saying Green crossed a line. While many teammates agreed that Green went too far, according to The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, some felt Green’s criticisms of Durant weren’t off-base.
“Durant’s free agency has been a low-key issue with the players. It registered as a small irritation. The burden of talking about it, reading about it, hearing about it, grew heavier in Year 3 of the Durant Experience…
“According to several in the locker room, Durant could have ended this by just saying how much he loves playing with the Warriors and his teammates and leave it at that, even if he departs in the offseason. They are all prepared for him to leave so they just want the cloud hanging over them to go away. Another option would be to reject all questions about free agency and force the media to focus on this season, a way of protecting his teammates.
“Durant has said he doesn’t want to lead anybody on. But Green is part of a contingent that believes Durant has a hand in creating the hype about his free agency, a tangential focus that detracts from their mission of winning a third straight title.”
Since joining the Warriors, Durant has taken two “1+1” contracts – one year, then a second-year player option. This is the same type of deal LeBron James took with the Cleveland Cavaliers in his second stint. For him, the deals served two purposes:
1. To maximise his earnings. When a player joins a new team, it takes three years before that team has that player’s full “Bird rights.” At that point, they can re-sign him to a longer, pricier deal than anyone else in the NBA.
2. To apply pressure to the Cavs. With the threat of James leaving each season, the Cavs had to be perpetually in “win now” mode and making moves to maximise their chances.
Durant is doing the same thing, and he’s part of a tiny set of NBA players who could afford to do it. If possible, players like to lock in long contracts for the security that comes with them. James and Durant are some of the only players who could play on one-year deals and know that teams would still sign them to max contracts, even in the event of a significant injury.
Curiously, though, Durant hasn’t been maximizing his earnings as James has. He took less money last offseason to help the team re-sign players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. If Durant had taken his full max, the Warriors wouldn’t have had the money to re-sign them.
Instead, Durant’s contracts seem to be about keeping his flexibility. Even while helping the Warriors win two titles, winning Finals MVP both times, and finding the higher level of basketball and culture that he craved, Durant has left his future open. There’s a sense in the NBA world that the Warriors are still Stephen Curry’s team, even with the added boost of dominance that Durant has brought along.
There have been hints of uneasiness about the relationship with Durant since he arrived. It took Curry two seasons to learn how to play with Durant (before his recent groin injury, he had figured it out in dominant fashion this year). Last year, Steve Kerr told ESPN’s Zach Lowe that he had a crucial, sit-down talk with Durant during the middle of the season because he felt Durant “drifting.”
After winning the championship, Warriors GM Bob Myers publicly ribbed Durant, saying that Durant couldn’t have any contract he wants, adding that only Curry could. Some felt it was an awkward moment.
And now, as Thompson and others have reported, as Durant heads into free agency this summer, the questions about where he may go are hovering above the team.
Though James invited the speculation with the Cavs with his contract structure, last season, on the verge of free agency (the first when people thought he might indeed leave), James shut down all talk until the end of the season. As Thompson noted, Durant has not done that, and it’s rubbing some teammates the wrong way.
Most expect that Green and Durant will patch things up and the season will go on. The Warriors are talented enough to survive a rift, even if there are lingering hurt feelings. But as the season goes on, even if Durant were to shut down questions about his future, his free agency will still be approaching, and speculation will continue.