Former Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant is joining the Golden State Warriors, giving the team perhaps the best consolation prize they could have hoped for after losing the NBA Finals in crushing fashion last month.
Durant’s decision, which he announced Monday in a piece posted on the Players’ Tribune website, was the most highly anticipated move of the NBA’s offseason and capped what he called the most challenging few weeks of his professional life.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player – as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote in a 351-word announcement called “My Next Chapter”.
“But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.
“With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
The 27-year-old forward, who was the biggest prize on the free agent market, is a four-times NBA scoring champion and seven-times All-Star who spent the first nine years of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise.
Durant joins two-time reigning league MVP Stephen Curry on a Warriors team that won the NBA title in 2015 and finished runners-up in 2016 after a remarkable campaign in which they had a record 73 wins during the 82-game regular season.
The Warriors held a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but unthinkably were unable to close out the series as they became the first team to squander such a lead, missing out on a second consecutive championship.
Durant, whose former Thunder team came one win short of reaching the 2016 NBA Finals, met with the Thunder, Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat before making his decision.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Durant, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2012 Olympics, is reportedly expected to sign a two-year, $54.3 million contract with the Warriors.
While playing for the Thunder, Durant appeared in four Western Conference finals and one NBA Finals, where his team lost in five games to Miami in 2012.
He averaged 27.4 points, 7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in his nine NBA seasons, which included being named the league’s MVP for the 2013-14 season.
Durant, who was taken second overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by a Seattle SuperSonics team that relocated to Oklahoma City a year later, said the relationships he forged while playing with his former team are what made his decision so challenging.
“It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career,” said Durant.
“I will miss Oklahoma City, and the role I have had in building this remarkable team. I will forever cherish the relationships within the organization – the friends and teammates that I went to war with on the court for nine years, and all the fans and people of the community.”
But Durant has drawn the ire of prominent sports journalist and NBA presenter Stephen A. Smith. Speaking on Sports Centre, Smith labelled Durant’s announcement as “incredibly weak”.
“I’m viewing it as the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar,” Smith said.
Smith claimed that he did not have a problem with Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder, but rather with his choice to defect to the team that had come back from a 3-1 deficit and crushed the Thunder’s hopes of winning their first NBA title since 1979. “It’s not that he’s leaving Oklahoma City,” he said.
“If you’re not happy there and you want to move on and you want to grow as a player, there’s nothing wrong with that… He’s a quintessential superstar. He deserves all the credit in the world for the talent he possesses.
“But the flipside is this: They were up 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. Three different times he was 48 minutes removed from getting to the NBA finals… three times he failed. And you depart for the team that beat you?
“When you are on the cusp of getting to the finals yourself or ultimately winning the championship for the franchise that you’ve been with since you’ve come into the NBA?
“I think it’s incredibly weak.”
Smith also shut down those trying to compare the move to that of LeBron James after his 2010 transfer from Cleveland to the Miami Heat.
“I don’t want to hear any comparisons to that of LeBron James when LeBron left Cleveland for south Beach.
“When LeBron left Cleveland, the cupboard was bare. He was basically the only dude in Cleveland – it was LeBron James and a bunch of no-names. In the case of Kevin Durant, you have one of the top five players in the world as your teammate (Russell Westbrook), you’ve got a good coaching staff and a first class organisation.
“You are legitimately a championship contender. You are the difference. You are the superstar. And you depart for the team that beat you? That’s the two-time reigning Western Conference champions, who have won a championship in the last two years? You’re jumping on a bandwagon as far as I’m concerned.”