BROOKLYN -- Before the start of the season, there was a fair bit of fretting about how Kevin Durant would fit with the Golden State Warriors. One of the buzzwords was "sacrifice." Since Durant is not Harrison Barnes, the rest of the Warriors would get fewer touches, make fewer plays and score fewer points. In NBA parlance, accepting this is "sacrificing" -- players trade the opportunity to put up impressive individual numbers for the more noble goal of team success.
Optimists argued Golden State would definitely do this because its offensive system promotes ball moment and its core is composed of high-IQ guys who play well with others. Critics argued that it would be a challenge, as the Warriors had four All-Stars and just one ball. Klay Thompson famously rejected the premise, saying that he's "not sacrificing s--- because my game isn't changing." Stephen Curry said the same thing, less colorfully. Golden State coach Steve Kerr thought that the players understood how fortunate they were to have Durant as a teammate, so "sacrifice" isn't the right word.
"I think it's perspective more than sacrifice," Kerr said before Thursday's 117-101 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. "I've used the analogy before: If you went back and asked Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, 'Are you happy?' -- In Chris's case, is he happy he went to Miami, and Dwyane's case, is he happy LeBron came there? -- Are they happy, were they happy sacrificing shots and points -- 'sacrificing' in quotes -- I would guess they would say, 'Yeah.'
"Those years when you're a contender, when you have a chance and you're getting to the Finals, those are the best in any player's career. And those things far outweigh any statistical stuff. So I think our players already had that perspective, which is why they wanted KD. It's why basically our four top guys flew to New York to recruit him. Because they weren't that concerned with how many points they were going to score. They want the experience of winning, and they knew KD gave us a better chance to do that."
Kerr did not doubt anybody's dedication to winning. He would not be an NBA head coach, though, if he didn't worry about how things would work. Rather than an ego problem, Kerr saw a basketball problem -- with Durant in the fold, could everybody else stay as involved and in rhythm as they had been for the past two seasons? Draymond Green was the biggest question mark here -- coming off an All-Star season where he'd shattered his career high in every statistical category that involved the ball being in his hands, he would have to take at least a slight step back as a playmaker.
Two months into the regular season, the Warriors have the best record in the league, ranking second in both offensive rating and defensive rating. Green is still piling up assists and rebounds and serving as a super-glue guy, exceeding even Kerr's expectations.
"Beyond what I hoped," Kerr said. "I was actually concerned that he would have the biggest adjustment of all between Steph, Klay and KD. Because Draymond is such a facilitator, he needs to handle the ball to really feel good offensively, and the other guys you know they're going to get shots. So I was worried. And I think the first two games, he was uncomfortable, and then something clicked and he's been great ever since. I think all four of those guys have really figured out how to share the ball and their roles and they take great pleasure in each other's success. It just seems like every night they're all producing, they're all getting plenty of shots, plenty of touches and it's all working."
Kerr thinks that, of the four of them, Durant has made the biggest adjustment. When you look at the numbers, that is true -- all of the returning players have seen a decline in touches, but they're doing the same thing with the ball when they get it. Durant, who said in the preseason that he was learning a different way to play basketball, is holding onto the ball and dribbling significantly less than he did with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"He's new to the group," Kerr said. "The other guys are used to the way we do things around here."
Durant is eighth in the league in scoring, down from third last year. He has never, however, been more efficient, taken better care of the ball or blocked more shots. Green is averaging just 10.6 points, down from 14 last year, but he is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year. Curry said he thinks what Green is most proud of is the fact that he impacts the game in all sorts of ways. It's worth asking not only whether or not these guys are truly "sacrificing," but whether or not anybody should have thought this would be a tricky process in the first place.
On one hand, not all superteams work, and the Warriors don't have to look far for a reminder -- assistant coach Mike Brown was hired to coach Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, but was fired after a 1-5 start. On the other hand, throughout NBA history, champions generally have superstars. Golden State obviously has the stars, and it also has a strong track record of playing unselfishly. Kerr has often cited Andre Iguodala's willingness to come off the bench two years ago as a tone-setter for the title and the 73-win season that followed.
When Thompson told The Vertical's Shams Charania he was "not sacrificing s---" back in August, he also said he felt "kind of disrespected that people keep using the term sacrifice to describe me and describe us." To him, the Durant signing was "an incredible moment" because "we had the final form of our team," not some sort of issue that had to be resolved. Thompson is not the only Warrior who felt that way, and perhaps it was patronizing to suggest that some of the greatest players on the planet would have trouble putting the team first, or that they cared about points per game as much as the least informed fan you know.
"You know what's interesting?" Iguodala said. "When you get a lot of talented athletes together, and when you say talented athletes, it's mostly African-Americans, they don't think we can play well together. It's amazing. But somehow, we are getting it done. Y'all always been doubting us since the beginning of time. It's crazy, ain't it?"