LOS ANGELES — Not to put down Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, or LeBron James, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Kevin Durant is the best player in the NBA.
"He scored 50 points on just 26 shots? He's unstoppable," an NBA executive said after the Golden State Warriors closed out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 on Friday night at Staples Center.
Durant's combination of size (he's still listed at 6'9", but let's not kid, he's a 7-footer), shooting skill and defensive versatility puts him at the head of the pack.
Lou Williams, who helped the underdog Clippers steal two wins, gave an honest "game recognizes game" take on the unique challenge Durant represents.
"Sometimes you come across special people, and it doesn't matter what you send to them. There's no scheme. There's no nothing that you can do," Williams said. "[Durant is] one of them."
"He was, like, 'I'm Kevin Durant. Y'all know who I am.' That's like a bold statement to make when you're about to go [against] some guys that's extremely competitive," Williams continued. "And he came out that game and he said, 'I can really shoot over these guys,' and he did it. It wasn't lack of effort on our part. He's an all-world professional, and he proved himself. He proved exactly who people think he is, who he thinks he is himself, and he did it. And you tip your hat off to a guy like that."
Durant was the ninth-leading scorer through the regular season at 26 points per game, but he's sharing the court with the sixth-highest scorer in Stephen Curry at 27.3 per night. Klay Thompson was 20th overall at 21.5.
Now that the playoffs are here, the back-to-back Finals MVP leads the pack at 35 per game.
When asked if Durant is the best player in the league, the NBA executive answered that he liked Damian Lillard but was quickly swayed to Durant after considering the impact he makes on the game defensively.
Durant's coach, Steve Kerr, spoke glowingly of his player after the series-clincher.
"That was one of the great performances I've ever seen in my life. And I've seen some good ones," said Kerr, who played alongside the likes of Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan.
"He just carried us these last couple of games," Kerr continued. "He's the ultimate weapon because there's no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot. And he knew we needed him badly."
The Warriors have the luxury of three elite scorers/shooters in Curry, Thompson and Durant.
"Yeah, kind of nice having these guys on our team," Kerr said. "They're pretty good."
A Warriors team with Draymond Green, Curry and Thompson would be among the elite in the league, but without Durant, they're vulnerable. They don't survive LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers the last two years (not to mention the Houston Rockets) without Durant carrying them over the threshold.
That's why the "what will KD do this summer?" question has hung over the team all season. Durant can opt out of his final year at $31.5 million to either re-sign or move on to other challenges.
In February, Durant exclaimed, "I just don't trust the media," and "I have nothing to do with the [New York] Knicks," bothered that he faced so many questions about his future when the Warriors were trying to focus on the task at hand.
Ask around the league—agents, executives, players, media, etc.—and you'll get a wide range of opinions on Durant's future. Many believe he'll head to the Knicks. Others say the Brooklyn Nets are the dark horse, or maybe even the Clippers. The Los Angeles Lakers can get to enough cap space to pair James with Durant.
Some sources, fewer in number but not necessarily in validity, think Durant will stay with the Warriors to try to push the club beyond the Jordan Chicago Bulls into Bill Russell Boston Celtics territory.
After the win over the Clippers, Durant tried to describe how and when he knows to take over a game.
"I can't really explain it," Durant said. "I mean, it's just a perfect balance we have. We've been playing with each other. We know each other. We have good chemistry. I know when Steph is going, and he knows when I'm going, and Klay and Dray, all the way down the line."
"We sacrifice shots for each other. We sacrifice opportunities for each other," he added. "And I think Coach and everybody on the team kind of knows how the game is being played and who needs to touch it and what we need to run the offense through."
Durant may leave the Warriors, but he just gave a strong pitch as to why he shouldn't.
Sure, he could head out on his own, but to what end? He'd still need to find new teammates to build chemistry with, as even the best player in the league can't win on his own.
Some speculate he'll join Kyrie Irving somewhere in the Eastern Conference. Maybe so, but what the Warriors have is so unique and so special—specifically because Durant as the best player in the league is surrounded by two of the best shooters in the NBA—he should listen to his own postgame comments.
The Warriors are a once-in-a-generation franchise, and Durant should look to prolong that for as long as possible.