Kevin Durant is going to have to get used to being looked at as a villain by numerous basketball fans, and being the nice, mild-mannered guy he is, it has clearly been a big adjustment for him since joining the Warriors.
“Obviously, people don’t like me right now, but it is what it is,” Durant said. “I can’t please them all. I’ve still got to go out there and handle my business.”
The easiest parallel to compare this to is when LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami, and he had to get used to people around the league suddenly rooting for him to fail. In a lot of ways, Durant going to Golden State might be even more infuriating among fans of the league, because the Heat weren’t coming off a championship and an NBA record 73 wins in the last two seasons before James got there.
Mark Cuban thinks Golden State's super team is good for NBA business. "They become the villain," Cuban told… https://t.co/sgvDTzwRX4
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 14, 2016
Add that in with the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder looked equipped to compete for a championship for the next handful of years with two top 5 players before Durant left, and Durant leaving looks pretty egregious from the perspective of fans who value competitive balance above all else.
Certain players are better at thriving while being billed as a villain, and it’s usually guys who are naturally more surly and don’t seem to care about being well liked to begin with. Barry Bonds immediately comes to mind as a fantastic athlete who elevated his game despite the vitriol that was thrown at him.
Durant isn’t like that at all, though. He is more low-key, and has a reputation around the league as a genuinely nice guy. He’s not bombastic, and has never drawn negative attention towards himself through his antics.
It’s uncharted territory for him to suddenly be hated by huge portions of basketball fans. The best advice anybody could give him is to simply focus not on what fans around the league are saying, but what Warriors fans are saying, because this fan base is over the moon to have Durant join their team.
I was pondering the events that lead up to this offseason, and as crazy as it sounds at first, losing game 7 of that NBA Finals might have been the best thing that could have ever happened to this franchise.
The reason I say that is because if they had won back-to-back championships, I don’t think they would have pursued Durant with such tenacity. The likeliest scenario is that they would have felt obligated to keep the roster intact, and ended up begrudgingly giving Harrison Barnes a max contract that he truly didn’t deserve.
Cap flexibility is hurt by devoting that much money to a guy who averages 11-12 points per game, is a good but not great defender, and has proven to be a liability on the court when he isn’t hitting outside shots.
The absurd reality of this offseason is that a 73 win team has gotten objectively better through roster transaction. Durant is lightyears better than Barnes. All things considered, Zaza Pachulia is better than Andrew Bogut. Warriors fans tend to romanticize Bogut, and he was certainly a terrific defender and rim protector, but he was severely limited on offense, and always left the team vulnerable with the looming possibility of “Hack-a-Bogut” being initiated by the opponent.
David West is better than Marreese Speights. Not only is he a better 16-20 ft. shooter than Speights (the one great skill that Speights had), but brings defensive intensity that Speights didn’t have.
Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, and Brandon Rush will be missed, but none of those guys played more than 17 minutes per game last season. Adding a top-5 player like Durant has way more impact on the course of a game than those players did.
Once Durant gets over the initial shock of suddenly being viewed negatively around the league, he should be fine. Warriors fans are ready to shower him with all the support possible, and once this team starts winning basketball games, Durant will be even more sure that he made the right decision.