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Why the collapse of the Warriors feels so abrupt

Kevin Durant was never supposed to be on the Golden State Warriors. It was an accident: A one-time-only salary-cap spike left a 73-win team with enough space to add perhaps the world’s second-best player. The NBA had seen Big 3s before. It had never seen a Big 4 like this.

All four stars were still younger than 30 after they won their first title, obliterating the league across a 15-1 postseason. The Warriors looked poised to be the greatest dynasty since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

Only two years and one championship after that 2017 crown, that team is gone. Durant plays for the Brooklyn Nets, which is a thing you have to say out loud a few times before you believe it. He is recovering from a devastating injury; Klay Thompson is too. Andre Iguodala plays for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Maybe it is just this hard to sustain greatness. Maybe this is the shelf life of a championship team now. The grind — 100-plus games every season — is exhausting. The LeBron James-era Miami Heat lasted four seasons, until everyone seemed old, weary or ready to move on. Superstar contracts make it hard to build depth. Those contracts are short. Stars win titles, then seek other kinds of validation.

Durant spent part of the summer after that first championship working with Steve Nash, a Warriors consultant. Nash was struck by Durant’s despondency.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap6

“He didn’t have a great summer,” Nash told me last year. “He was searching for what it all meant. He thought a championship would change everything and found out it doesn’t. He was not fulfilled.”

The Warriors enjoyed having Durant, and he enjoyed playing in Golden State. Still: They never found a permanent comfort zone together. Teammates and coaches looked for hopeful signs. When Durant and Stephen Curry sipped wine together for hours after a team dinner in Denver during Durant’s first preseason with Golden State, coaches smiled. The two stars were getting to know each other, getting over the awkward stage.

But Durant would withdraw. He grew so quiet during the middle of the 2017-18 season that coach Steve Kerr summoned him to lunch in Portland before the All-Star break. “I don’t want to lose you,” Durant remembered Kerr telling him.cheap nfl jerseys from china nike

“He had been drifting a bit,” Kerr told ESPN after the 2018 NBA Finals. “He’s vulnerable. I felt the need to reconnect.”

There was a natural tension — “stylistic tension, not personal tension,” Kerr said then — between Durant’s approach and the Warriors’ beautiful game, even if Durant had the savvy and skill to meld them. That tension came to a head during the 2018 Western Conference finals, when the Houston Rockets’ switching defense jammed Golden State’s motion and coaxed the Warriors into more one-on-one play. Durant slumped. Critics howled. The Warriors almost lost.

But they didn’t lose. On the flight back from Houston after Game 7, Durant sat next to Bob Myers, Golden State’s president of basketball operations, and declared, “I have never felt more a part of the team,” Myers recalled last year.