The Golden State Warriors nearly won their second straight championship this past June. They were the best regular-season team of all-time, equipped with the first-ever unanimous MVP, a lineup filled with All-Stars and playmakers and one of the best offenses and defenses in the league. They also had home-court advantage throughout the postseason and a 3-1 lead over the Cavaliers. Yet it all proved for naught as Cleveland stormed back to win the series and the NBA title.
The Finals meltdown humbled the Warriors but it also stoked their desire to get back to the Finals next season. The loss is also one of the main reasons Kevin Durant decided to sign with Golden State.
From the Mercury News' Anthony Slater:
Durant: "I was telling one of my friends, Rich (Kleiman, his agent), who's here, we were watching Game 7. Well, as it started to unfold, it was, 'No question, no way could you go to this team.' And I was just like a kid, like, in a candy shop. I'd get wide open 3s, I could just run up and down the court, get wide open layups. I was basically begging him. I was like, yo, this would be nice. So as I was thinking about my decision and who I was gonna play for, this team came to mind. You know, as they lost, it became more and more real every day. You start to think about it even more. To see if I would fit. Then once I sat down with these guys, everything that I wanted to know about them they kinda showed me. But we don't have to talk about it though because they didn't get the job done and they came after me and who knows what would've happened. But I guess you could say I'm glad that they lost."
While we can hypothesize and pontificate that the Warriors could've still signed Durant if they won, their Finals loss did point out some minor flaws they had on their team. Plus if Golden State had won, it may have wanted to re-sign Harrison Barnes and other free-agents in an effort to keep its championship team together. But Durant visualized how he could fill the holes on Golden State after its sobering loss and the Warriors saw the same thing, so now he's part of the team.
Golden State's Finals loss wasn't the main factor in Durant's decision though. He also saw himself meshing with the Warriors' culture and wanted to be a part of it:
Later, Durant was asked for a fuller explanation on why he picked the Warriors. He called it an 'easy choice': "It felt like it was a perfect fit. It was something I was searching for when I sat down and talked to these guys. I wanted to see if what I've heard and what I've seen on the outside is really true. Do these guys really genuinely love each other? They work together. You hear family a lot. That's just a word sometimes, but this is really a lifestyle here. You can feel it when you walk in the door, in the practice facility, everybody is just together. That's something that I can appreciate as a basketball player and someone who values relationships. You can tell that that's what they stand on, that's what we stand on. I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form. They make it about the players, they make it about the environment, so it was really an easy choice."
This answer sounds familiar as players often praise the culture in Golden State. The Warriors, due in large part to coach Steve Kerr, have one of the tightest knit teams in the league and they all truly enjoy playing with each other. Of course some may argue that Durant had a similar team environment in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook, but according to him, Golden State is on a different level, which is quite evident when watching Warriors games.
Durant's true feelings about playing with Westbrook may never be known but he saw a unique opportunity in Golden State -- a familial atmosphere coupled with a team needing him after losing in the Finals -- so he signed with the Warriors. For Durant, it was an "easy choice" but while that decision may have been effortless, the Warriors will now have to meet all the expectations placed on them with his signing by winning a championship.