- - Tuesday, May 28, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State to win championships, consider the mission accomplished. He has two rings and is likely to get a third if the Warriors, as expected, defeat the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals’ best-of-seven series that starts Thursday night in Canada.

But championships are about legacies and, though he also picked up two finals’ MVP trophies to go along with his two rings, there are many still who question Durant’s relevance with the Warriors.

Part of the Durant legacy is this nagging, ongoing question: “Would the Golden State Warriors have won their last two NBA titles without Kevin?” After all, this is a group — led by Steph Curry — that had already won one before Durant arrived in 2016.

For now, as Durant remains sidelined with a calf injury that puts in doubt his availability for this latest title bid, the more pressing question is this: Can the Warriors win another NBA championship without him?

Most prognosticators say yes, Golden State can, and that scenario, according to Fox Sports NBA Insider Chris Broussard, would be Durant’s “worst nightmare.”



And he is right.

Durant’s peers already have devalued the two rings the superstar won in Golden State, according to Broussard. “Players around the league tell me they put an asterisk by Durant’s two championships,” he said.

Of course they do. The Warriors seemed unbeatable before Durant arrived, with the core group of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Durant should know — that group, after winning 73 games in the 2016-17 season, defeated Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games in the NBA Western Conference finals, despite the Thunder leading the series at one point 3-1.

Then, as a free agent, Durant — instead of choosing to play somewhere to establish a championship legacy of his own with a team like, let’s say, his hometown Washington Wizards — signed with the championship team that just beat him.

With that decision, Durant chose to be a passenger, not the driver, for NBA championship glory.

He’s definitely a passenger on this year’s title bus if he doesn’t make back onto the court.

He would be a sideline observer, and the questions of his legacy as one of the great players of his time will grow significantly in volume. And that would obviously hurt Durant, a remarkably sensitive figure, so much so that he once created fake Twitter accounts to go after critics on social media.

Heck, he’s even sensitive about being called sensitive. In a July 2018 ESPN story, Durant said, “Every time I say something, I go about my business, and when I say something, House of Highlights and Bleacher Report [mash] it all up and y’all run with it, and as soon as I say something back, I’m the sensitive one. I mean, I know y’all trying to make me look crazy and discredit me and strip me of my credibility. But I see what you doing. But I’m going to still keep standing.”

Imagine how Durant will feel if the Warriors go on and win another title here without him.

It will be, as Broussard suggested, Durant’s worst nightmare. No one is saying that the Warriors are better without Durant. What they will believe, though, is that the Warriors don’t need him to win.

That puts Durant in a strange position — his legacy would be strengthened if the Warriors lose this series.

No one is suggesting Durant would want that. But it does put him on the bench next to Gilbert Arenas, the former Wizard who, on his recent “No Chill” podcast, revealed that when he wasn’t playing, he wanted his teammates to fail.

“I was angry as f– as a bench player,” Arenas said. “Like, I’m not clapping for s– you did. I’m sorry … F– that. I want your position. … I don’t want you to do good….I was literally making sure the coach knew his flaws, like, ‘C’mon, dude, get back on defense,’” Arenas said. “‘Damn, man, he keeps getting beat.’ Like, ‘Tighten up, he keeps going left on you.’”

What a wonderful teammate.

It amazes me that people in this town still consider Arenas some sort of franchise icon. He nearly destroyed the Wizards franchise with his bizarre, childish, selfish behavior, and put everyone in the building at risk by bringing guns into the locker room. He didn’t care about the team. He cared about Gilbert Arenas. He just told you that.

I doubt that Kevin Durant is pulling a Gilbert Arenas and hoping his teammates fail. But by choosing to be a championship passenger, Durant has lost control of his legacy, and now finds it barreling down Nightmare Alley.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

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