The Golden State Warriors were crowned “Franchise of the Decade” by Sports Business Journal on Monday, beating out teams across all professional sports for the honor.
The Warriors’ turnaround from laughing stock to NBA gold standard was stunning, and it wouldn’t have been possible without every marquee player, coach, and front office executive who proved so instrumental to their success.
Don’t tell that to Golden State, though, which made the pointed decision to leave Kevin Durant out of the video celebrating their accolade.
Durant proved just as valuable as anticipated when he rocked the NBA by signing with Golden State in the summer of 2016.
He won the next two Finals MVP trophies by going toe-to-toe with LeBron James on the game’s biggest stage, putting up monster numbers as the Warriors easily dispatched the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr famously said in the wake of the 2017 Finals that Durant, not Stephen Curry, was basketball’s second-best player behind James. He went a step further last spring as Durant dominated the LA Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, calling him “the best player in the world.”
If Durant’s devastating playoff romp last season wasn’t ended prematurely by injury, the Warriors very likely would have become just the second team ever to win four championships in five seasons – and Durant only the third player ever to win Finals MVP three straight times.
Golden State’s wholly unique offensive identity revolved around Curry, and Draymond Green was the team’s emotional heartbeat. But Kevin Durant was the Warriors’ best player when it mattered most, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Golden State certainly would have been a title contender over the last three seasons without Durant. But the only explanation needed to convey his immense value came in the moments following the Warriors’ most heartbreaking, memorable defeat of the last decade.
After James and the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals, Green called Durant from the Oracle Arena parking lot, imploring him to sign with Golden State in free agency. Green even admitted that his team’s failure paved the way for Durant to spurn Oklahoma City, who had just lost to the Warriors in an epic Western Conference Finals.
“If we win the championship, I’m like 99 percent sure we don’t get him,” Green said, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “There are silver linings to everything.”
Without Golden State’s historic letdown, it stands to reason that the franchise’s historic run of success wouldn’t have continued past 2016. There’s even an argument to made that the Warriors wouldn’t have won a single championship if Durant hadn’t come aboard, and injuries hadn’t befallen the Cavaliers in 2015.
Cleveland, remember, played without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in the teams’ first of four Finals matchups. When both sides were full-strength one year later, before Golden State could play its Durant trump card, the Cavaliers came out on top.
It reeks of resentment at his decision to leave last summer that the Warriors would intentionally exclude Durant from their celebratory video. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what happened.
He’s nowhere to be found in the photo of Golden State raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2017. Even rookie Eric Paschall, a lone bright spot of today’s injury-ravaged Warriors, was highlighted, but not the player who turned the Warriors from title contender to an all-time juggernaut.
Kevin Durant deserves much better, and Golden State deserves widespread criticism for ignoring his pivotal role in its rise to the top of the sports world.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:40 PM UTC