Kevin Durant had to see Stephen Curry in person. If Durant was going to join the Golden State Warriors, he needed to know the back-to-back Most Valuable Player really wanted him around. Curry has not only been the face of the Warriors as they've ascended from one of the league's laughingstocks to a 73-win juggernaut, he has become one of the most prominent athletes in the world.
"I wanted to look Steph in his eyes and ask him how he felt about a guy like me joining his team," Durant said at his introductory press conference on Thursday.
Durant's agent, Rich Kleiman, pressed Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala at their meeting in The Hamptons. "Why the hell would you guys want Kevin?" he said, per USA Today's Sam Amick. There is no precedent for a top-3 player joining a team that already has three All-Stars, all 26 to 28 years old, including another top-3 player. With Durant in the fold, Curry might never average 30 points, make 400 3-pointers in a season or win MVP again.
For some stars, this sort of partnership would be awkward, as would the recruiting process. When Curry said he wanted to play with Durant, it was believable. Otherwise, Durant wouldn't be a Warrior.
"Steph was as genuine as he possibly could be," Golden State owner Joe Lacob said on the San Jose Mercury News' "The TK Show" podcast. "You have to wonder sometimes, 'Is that real?' I think K.D. asked, 'Is that real?' after to Bob [Myers] and I, and I said, 'Hey, that's who he is. That's really who he is.' I think he's led the league in scoring, he won a championship. He just wants to win and have fun playing, playing the right way. And that came across in the whole presentation or whole interaction."
A different kind of group with a different kind of best player might have hesitated or downright refused to pitch another superstar, instead wanting to prove that no help was needed. Durant said he was shocked to see those four players come to meet him -- he thought they wouldn't be interested. Then he listened to them take turns telling him why he would fit in.
After the meeting, Curry kept texting him. The most popular player in the NBA wanted Durant to know that he didn't care about shoe sales and would be happy to sit in the front row and applaud if Durant won MVP next season, per ESPN's Marc Spears.
Durant's was attracted to Golden State's culture and style of play. Both are possible because of Curry, a soft-spoken superstar who celebrates his teammates' success more than his own and is happy to take a backseat whenever Thompson catches fire. The Warriors seemed like a family to Durant, and they have succeeded because of unselfishness, defense and passing, not just lights-out 3-point shooting.
When the Chicago Bulls introduced guard Rajon Rondo on Thursday, he told reporters that they have "three alphas" -- Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and himself -- but "it's Jimmy's team." All of those players are best with the ball in their hands, and Rondo can be actively harmful without it. When they go into training camp, coach Fred Hoiberg's biggest challenge will be figuring out how the three of them can complement each other. That does not seem easy, and it has nothing in common with the Warriors' situation.
Curry is as competitive as anyone else in the league, but it's impossible to imagine him referring to himself as an "alpha." There will be no power struggle here, and coach Steve Kerr confidently said Durant will fit in seamlessly. With Golden State, the question of whether it's Curry's team or Durant's team is irrelevant. Green is the Warriors' vocal and emotional leader on the court. Iguodala is the quiet leader behind the scenes. Durant saw how the dynamic works up close, and he wanted to be a part of it.
This is not to say that there won't be an adjustment period. Durant has been a deadly one-on-one scorer his whole life, and he'll have to get used to keeping the ball moving. Everyone will be motivated to make it work, though, and Curry will do whatever he can to make him comfortable. If anything, Golden State might get in trouble because Curry and Durant try to defer to each other at first, not because they are getting in each other's way.
The beauty of the Warriors' system is that, if you can shoot and pass, you'll figure it out. Before Kerr showed up, the offense didn't generate open looks for Curry; he had to create them himself. Durant will see the same benefits, only they will be more pronounced now. Neither of them will see as many aggressive traps as they have in the past. If you watched Golden State's offense slow down against the Thunder and the Cavaliers, it's not hard to figure out why Curry and co. wanted to bring Durant into the picture.
Durant did not pick the Warriors simply because of Curry. He did not choose them because he wanted to get away from Russell Westbrook. Curry, though, figures to be the ideal partner for Durant, both in terms of his game and his approach. Given that they knew have known each other since playing for Team USA six years ago, Durant shouldn't have even needed to ask Curry anything.