With Du­rant, the War­riors dom­i­nate in tran­si­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - TIM BON­TEMPS

oak­land, calif. — Kevin Du­rant knew his life and bas­ket­ball ca­reer were chang­ing for­ever from the mo­ment he de­cided to leave the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der last sum­mer to join the Golden State War­riors. By de­cid­ing to join a team that had al­ready won a cham­pi­onship with its ex­ist­ing core, and fol­lowed that up by win­ning a record 73 games last sea­son be­fore los­ing to the Cleve­land Cavaliers in seven games in the NBA Fi­nals, Du­rant’s ev­ery move would be scru­ti­nized and de­bated, his suc­cesses muted and his set­backs end­lessly an­a­lyzed.

But even with all of the drama that came with Du­rant’s de­ci­sion, the re­sults have been im­pres­sive. Golden State led the league with 67 wins, has steam­rolled through the Western Con­fer­ence play­offs with a pris­tine 12-0 record, and now is fac­ing a third straight show­down with LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Fi­nals be­gin­ning Thurs­day night at Or­a­cle Arena.

This is the kind of suc­cess Du­rant hoped for when he agreed to come to the War­riors. And, in the wake of mak­ing it back to the NBA Fi­nals for the first time since 2012 (his only other trip to the NBA’s sum­mit), he took a mo­ment this past week to re­flect on his first year by the Bay.

“I had no ex­pec­ta­tions,” Du­rant said af­ter a re­cent prac­tice at the team’s fa­cil­ity. “I was com­ing in and tak­ing it day by day, and see­ing how I can im­pact my team­mates and im­pact the game ev­ery sin­gle night and help us win.

“Ev­ery­thing kind of worked to­gether from that as­pect. I didn’t come in think­ing, ‘I have to do this,’ or ‘I have to do that.’ I just tried to come out here and learn and be the best team­mate I can be, and ev­ery­thing would fall in line af­ter that.”

If there is any one thing that has de­fined this War­riors sea­son, it is how seam­lessly ev­ery­thing has fallen into place. The War­riors did lose Du­rant for sev­eral weeks be­cause of the knee in­jury he suf­fered in Wash­ing­ton on Feb. 28, but oth­er­wise there have been vir­tu­ally no is­sues in­te­grat­ing one of the NBA’s dom­i­nant play­ers and per­son­al­i­ties into a team that had al­ready had so much suc­cess.

This isn’t how these mar­riages usu­ally work. Just think back to the first sea­son for the Mi­ami Heat with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or the tu­mul­tuous open­ing sea­son the Cavaliers had when James re­turned to Cleve­land three years ago. There is typ­i­cally a mat­u­ra­tion process to blend a group of in­di­vid­u­als into a team — even when some of those in­di­vid­u­als had al­ready been part of the team pre­vi­ously.

Count War­riors Gen­eral Man­ager Bob My­ers as one who thought the process would in­clude more grow­ing pains.

“I’ve been sur­prised at how the team has be­come a team,” My­ers said. “I’m a be­liever that it takes a long time to as­sim­i­late.

“I’ve been sur­prised they’ve all been will­ing and open to evolve, and, in some sce­nar­ios, get less in­di­vid­u­ally to get more from a team stand­point. Ego can be a de­trac­tor some­times to suc­cess, and they’ve all kind of pushed that aside.”

Win­ning can cure plenty of angst. But there’s also lit­tle doubt that the meet­ing all of the prin­ci­pals had last July in the Hamp­tons went a long way to mak­ing the tran­si­tion so seam­less. It was there, where Du­rant was con­duct­ing his free agent meet­ings — with Du­rant and his camp on one side of the ta­ble and the War­riors, led by Stephen Curry, Klay Thomp­son, Dray­mond Green and An­dre Iguo­dala on the other — that the chem­istry ex­per­i­ment be­gan.

Ev­ery­one sit­ting there knew that, if this was go­ing to work, ev­ery­one in­volved would have to give back a lit­tle bit. And while there have been small tugs at the fab­ric of that part­ner­ship over the past few months — most no­tably af­ter the War­riors lost in Cleve­land on Christ­mas, when Curry made clear (in the most tame way pos­si­ble) that he wasn’t happy with his cur­rent role, which led to pos­i­tive changes in the of­fense — for the most part the War­riors have found suc­cess with­out much pub­lic drama.

“Ob­vi­ously, we love hav­ing here as a per­son,” War­riors in­terim coach Mike Brown said of Du­rant. “And as a player, he fits in with the group. He has the type of per­son­al­ity that well with the rest of the guys.

“This is a group that is more than will­ing to sac­ri­fice their own in­di­vid­u­al­ity for the bet­ter­ment of the group and is the same way. There have been games where has gone out and maybe had 14 points, and he could’ve scored 30.

“So to have that type of per­son fit in with who he is and how big he is, just makes this ma­chine con­tinue to go smoothly with­out any hic­cups.”

The re­sult has been a group that — in a year where many thought they would have trou­ble fig­ur­ing out how to play to­gether — has rolled, earn­ing the No. 1 seed in the West and go­ing more than two months since their last loss. The War­riors en­ter the NBA Fi­nals as pro­hib­i­tive fa­vorites to win a sec­ond ti­tle in three years.

All of that, un­der­stand­ably, has Du­rant feel­ing op­ti­mistic.

“It’s like any­thing that’s new,” Du­rant said. “You’re still try­ing to fig­ure out the small de­tails of it all.

“It can only get bet­ter from here.”

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