In his first public conversation since leaving the Golden State Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets in free agency this summer, Kevin Durant cleared his former team of any wrongdoing surrounding his ruptured Achilles and explained the thinking behind his next chapter.
"How can you blame [the Warriors?] Hell, no," Durant told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes in a story published Wednesday. The 10-time All-Star continued:
"I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and [director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] working out every day. Right when the series started, I targeted Game 5. Hell, nah. It just happened. It’s basketball. S--- happens. Nobody was responsible for it. It was just the game. We just need to move on from that s--- because I'm going to be back playing."
Durant suffered his Achilles injury during Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors on June 10. It was his first game back from a calf strain suffered May 8 in the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
Durant emphasized to Haynes that he was aiming to return from his calf injury in Game 5 "no matter what."
The 30-year-old two-time Finals MVP also disclosed he "doesn't remember hearing" the Raptors fans who booed him as he left the court that night but jabbed to Haynes, "It will probably be the last time they will be in the Finals."
Durant can now directly affect the Raptors' path to another championship in the Eastern Conference with the Nets, even though he is expected to miss the 2019-20 season to recover from his Achilles injury.
The nine-time All-NBA forward simply told Haynes he left Golden State after making three consecutive Finals appearances and winning twice "because I wanted to. The basketball was appealing."
As for when a decision was made, he told Haynes: "June 30. That morning. I never wanted to disrespect the game by putting my focus on the future. It was always about that day, focusing on that day and what was most important that day. And throughout the season, basketball is the No. 1 thing."
Once he returns to the court fully healthy alongside All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who also joined Brooklyn in free agency, all eyes will be on the Nets. The franchise has never won an NBA title, but Durant never considered bolting Golden State for any other destination:
"The Nets have a nice young nucleus, a bright head coach in Kenny Atkinson and a promising young GM in Sean Marks, but not many predicted the organization would overshadow the Knicks for elite talent this offseason.
"'If I was leaving the Warriors, it was always going to be for the Nets,' Durant said. 'They got the pieces and a creative front office. I just like what they were building.'
"The Nets will have to be patient before seeing the duo of Durant and Kyrie Irving playing together. Irving is one of Durant’s closest friends in the league, and the Nets are banking on that relationship creating a positive chemistry on the court."
In the process of landing Durant, the Nets traded All-Star point guard D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors. Last season, the 23-year-old led Brooklyn to its first postseason appearance since 2014-15.
To start the 2019-20 season, the Nets are projected to have a starting five of Irving, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince and DeAndre Jordan, who signed with the Nets on a four-year, $40 million deal. Twenty-one-year-old Jarrett Allen will join Jordan in the center rotation, and Durant's return looms with the expectation of pushing the team over the edge at some point in the future.
When Durant joined the Warriors, the team had already solidified itself as a powerhouse with one NBA championship in the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green era. With the Nets, Durant has a chance to bring a franchise to glory it hasn't sniffed before.
That unwritten portion of his legacy hinges on how he recovers after suffering perhaps the worst injury a basketball player can experience.
"I'll be back playing at a high level," Durant assured Haynes.