Kevin Durant to leave Warriors for Brooklyn Nets

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In a move that the Warriors dreaded happening from the minute he re-signed with the team last summer, Kevin Durant announced he will join the Brooklyn Nets instead of staying with the Warriors. Durant announced the news on Sunday night on his Instagram account of The Boardroom, his company-owned sports business network. Other outlets reported the news first, though.

Durant had planned to have meetings with the Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers after free agency began on Sunday at 3:00 pm PT. After agreeing to a five-year, $190 million deal with Klay Thompson, Warriors general manager Bob Myers was in New York this weekend to speak with Durant and his business manager, Rich Kleiman. Curry planned to meet with Myers in New York after taking an Under Armour sponsored trip in Asia. Thompson also planned to connect with Durant via FaceTime.

The timing of Durant’s decision seemed surprising. Those around the NBA expected Durant to weigh his options for a few days after announcing his decision. After hosting meetings at a rented home in the Hamptons with the Warriors, Oklahoma City, the Clippers and Boston as a free agent in 2016, Durant announced in Players Tribune article about joining the Warriors on July 4. Although the Warriors did not receive the news they wanted, the timing of Durant’s decision gave them clarity on how to proceed moving forward for the rest of free agency. The Warriors also plan to thank Durant for his helping the Warriors win two NBA titles with two Finals MVP performances than harp about his departure.

Even though Durant declined the Warriors’ five-year, $221 million offer, the Warriors do not have enough cap room to sign another play to a max offer. Because of the NBA’s salary cap rules, the Warriors are restricted toward signing a player only at their tax-payer midlevel exception ($5.3 million) and veteran’s minimum deals. Since Durant is expected to miss all of next season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon against Toronto in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors still considered it a priority to sign wing players. Such candidates could include Wesley Matthews and Trevor Ariza, though such signings hinge on them willing to accept a pay cut. The Warriors had considered Rudy Gay as a top target, but he reportedly agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal to stay with the San Antonio Spurs.

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As for Durant, the Warriors and those around the NBA had varying degrees of optimism and uncertainty on whether he would stay.

What left the Warriors optimistic?

After leaving the Thunder for the Warriors in 2016, Durant won two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs in his first two seasons. Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala blended their complementary talents together, while also adjusting their roles with minimal hiccups. Durant had expressed appreciation for the Warriors’ team-oriented culture, which included having informal lunches with coach Steve Kerr and Myers to discuss any issues big and small.

Durant had made various business investments with companies in the Silicon Valley. The Warriors could offer him the most money at a five-year, $221 million, an advantage that could have become more important after suffering an injury that has often has derailed the careers of other NBA players. With the Warriors slated to play in San Francisco next season at Chase Center, Durant would further expand his business portfolio. Even after Durant ruptured his right Achilles tendon against Toronto in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Andre Iguodala told Bay Area News Group and other outlets that he sensed positive vibes from Durant that he might return.

What left the Warriors uncertain?

Durant agreed to a so-called one-plus-one deal with the Warriors last summer, which gave a different signal than when he did that in the 2017 offseason. Though both details helped the Warriors save in luxury taxes and build their roster with other free-agent signings, Durant admitted that he wanted flexibility for the following offseason. Draymond Green had a heated argument with Durant at the end of a game against the Clippers on Nov. 12 over playcalling, and addressed Durant with vulgar teams and threatened him to leave. After the Warriors suspended Green for one-game, the two eventually publicly reconciled. Though the Warriors do not believe that led to the Durant’s departure, the episode highlighted that Durant’s pending free agency created some awkwardness within the organization.

Durant’s production did not diminish. But he often appeared less talkative with reporters he had productive working relationships with in past seasons. At times, Durant appeared distant from teammates during portions of media availability at the end of morning shootarounds and during pre-game access. Durant also took exception to reporters that noted he did not speak to reporters for eight days after the New York Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks, a move made to clear cap space for both Durant and Irving. Occasionally, Durant would question Kerr’s offensive system predicated on ball movement as well as other X’s and O’s.

Nonetheless, the Warriors often defended Durant because of his consistent play, genuine personality and work ethic. After Durant strained his right calf against the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors won a decisive Game 6 and then swept Portland in the Western Conference Finals. During that time, the Warriors disputed the argument that the Warriors played better without Durant. The Warriors also supported Durant after he ruptured. Curry and Iguodala helped Durant to the locker room. In a post-game press conference, Myers appeared tearful and contrite over the injury.

The Warriors strongly disputed any notion that Durant felt misled or pressured to play after missing nine consecutive games with his strained right calf. The Warriors said they collaborated with their front office, training staff and coaching staff with Durant, his business manager, Rich Kleiman, and Durant’s outside medical doctors. In an Instagram post that has since been deleted, Durant had wrote following his surgery that “I wanted to be out there that night because that’s what I do. I wanted to help my teammates on our quest for the three peat.”

All of which made for an interesting backdrop regarding Durant’s free agency. Unlike what the Warriors experienced for all of this season, they finally have clarity on Durant’s plans. Like what the Warriors experienced this season, they absorbed the news they hoped they would not hear.

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