Injured Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant joined former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the latest episode of the All The Smoke podcast to discuss several major topics regarding his career, including what went into his decisions to sign with the Golden State Warriors and then the Nets.
Jumping ship from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Warriors in 2016 was one of the biggest moves in NBA history, and KD divulged that his decision largely had to do with playing for a team that he felt best fit his skill set:
"The Warriors were so intriguing because in OKC I played with a lot of athletes, I didn't play with a lot of skill guys. Not like shooters, ball handlers. So after a while my game started to grow, I was like, 'I need a change.' This is before the season even started. I was like, 'I'm gonna play out my last season as hard as I can. I'm not telling anybody I wanna leave, I'm not packing it in. I'm trying to win as much as we can to try to end this up right.'
"That was my thinking going in before the year. Obviously I had a few teams, but the Warriors were a team I wanted to play for because of the movement they had, their passing, they led the league in assists. ... Playing with that team, that's what I was thinking about."
Durant was criticized by many in the media for joining a team that the Thunder had lost to in the 2016 Western Conference Finals after being 3-1 up, but he didn't feel as though he was going behind enemy lines:
"I was tired of playing in that system. I was tired of having to be the only guy who could make threes, make jump shots consistently. My mind was already thinking about how can I develop my game more so than the Warriors vs. Thunder—that rivalry. Even if that was a rivalry, I didn't give a f--k. I just wanted to keep developing my game. On top of that, we only played them one time in the playoffs, so I didn't feel like a genuine, deep hate for the Warriors. They're a new, fresh team, they're on the rise, I f--k with them."
KD went on to win two championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards during his time with the Warriors, but the way he left OKC still sticks in the craw of some. His former Thunder teammate, Kendrick Perkins, is seemingly among them.
Durant and Perkins have been embroiled in a public feud stemming from a tweet Perkins sent in January about going on ESPN's SportsCenter to say why he believes Russell Westbrook is the greatest player in Thunder history.
KD told Barnes and Jackson that he felt Perkins was clearly taking a shot at him with that tweet:
"Russell going back to Oklahoma City was a great thing, but you knew that you saying, 'I'm gonna announce why Russell is the greatest Thunder player ever,' you knew that was a divisive statement. You knew that people would kinda be like, 'Oh, that's a shot at KD.' You know that, so my whole thing is you don't have to do that. In order for you to praise Russell, you don't gotta s--t on me. Because that's what the fans and that's what the media in Oklahoma City kind of made their money off of the last four years is s--tting on me. Perk, you're just playing into that because you want a job and you want some notoriety in your profession, but we were friends before this. ... So why are you trying to use that tactic against one of your so-called brothers?"
After Perkins did the segment on SportsCenter, he and Durant engaged in a Twitter back-and-forth that saw Perkins criticize Durant jumping ship and Durant criticize Perkins' play during their playoff run:
While KD didn't please everyone, the move to Golden State paid dividends for him. Even so, he decided to make another move in free agency during the 2019 offseason.
KD noted that he and Kyrie have been close for a few years, which led to their decision to go to Brooklyn together:
"I had been having conversations with Kyrie for the past two years, not even about playing together. We didn't plan on playing together, we played each other in my second year with the Warriors. We had a mutual friend and we had some wine together, and we just bonded on just life in general and basketball in general. And that just formed over time. He didn't like where his situation was at and me neither in Golden State, and we were just like, 'Hey man, let's just see how this would work. Let's try it out.'"
Both Durant and Irving have experience being the clear go-to guy on their team, as well as taking on something of a complementary role.
KD was the top dog from day one in Oklahoma City, but he had to share the spotlight with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State. Meanwhile, Kyrie played second fiddle to LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers before taking on a starring role with the Boston Celtics.
Durant said that while he won't be afraid to speak his mind to Kyrie when need be, he also plans to let Irving be himself in Brooklyn:
"We both want to challenge each other. We don't agree on everything. ... When I see him out there, if I feel like he could be doing more, I'm gonna let him know. If he feels like, 'Naw, you don't know what I see and feel out there,' I understand that too. My thing with Kyrie is, I'm just gonna let him be who he is. He's a pure artist of the game and he's proven himself on the biggest stage. In my opinion, he made the biggest shot of all time. For somebody like that, I can't tell him what to do. I'm just gonna kind of work with him and see how we can work together and make this thing work for the whole group."
Since Durant is still working his way back from a torn Achilles, it is likely that KD and Kyrie won't share the floor until next season. Even with Irving missing significant time this season in addition to Durant's injury, the Nets own the seventh playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Expectations will be much higher next season, and Durant noted that he is making progress in his recovery: "I'm working, man. Every single day I'm working. I'm getting closer and closer to being back to myself as much as I can."
If Durant can get back to full health and Irving manages to stay healthy next season as well, the Nets have a legitimate chance to be a championship contender out of the Eastern Conference.