Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, the winners of the past three MVP awards, were together in their crisp home whites on the same side only months after an incredible playoff scrap, and suddenly it all felt real for the Golden State Warriors.
An offseason of speculation about how the league’s two most intimidating scorers would mesh is closer to coming to an end as Durant and Curry stood back-to-back, then side-to-side, with arms folded, and their faces never cracked from intimidating, furrowed brows. A photographer tried to get the two to smile by suggesting they not stand shoulder-to-shoulder but rather shoulder-to-elbow, given Durant’s considerable height advantage over Curry.
Neither player broke from his serious demeanor. Curry didn’t even bother looking up at the towering figure whose presence signifies the heightened expectations for a team that has won 140 games, and an NBA championship, over the past two seasons.
“Our expectations are really, really high, which they should be,” Curry said. “And we just have to kind of just get wrapped up in it. Like I say every year on this day, you can’t fast forward to April to the playoffs. You’ve got to stay in the moment. So for us that’s even more important with the changes that we made.”
Though criticized for supposedly taking the easier road to a title by joining the team he couldn’t beat, Durant believes the opposite is true because he attracted more scrutiny and resistance, while placing more urgency on his desire to win that elusive ring. Durant has already become adept at dodging the questions he has no interest in answering, such as an inquiry about whether he would be a Warrior if Golden State had defeated Cleveland for the second year in a row.
“They didn’t, so I don’t even want to talk about it,” Durant said, while adding that he doesn’t expect to make too much of an adjustment from his time with Oklahoma City. “I’m going to be who I am, and approach the game like I’ve always done it. Nothing’s changed on my end, except for my jersey.”
Before Durant arrived, the Warriors were a Lamborghini going 100 down the highway during the regular season, zooming past the rest of the league, until hitting a pothole in the playoffs in the form of Curry’s knee injury and eventually running out of gas short of the destination. Golden State’s historic collapse in the NBA Finals turned what should’ve been a leave-no-doubt campaign into a laughingstock summer.
As the first team to blow a 3-1 lead on that stage, the Warriors experienced a round of jokes from wannabe Internet comedians on social media. They learned that being a darling can foster resentment and being a failure can inspire ridicule. They responded to the memes with a fantasy team – thanks to Curry’s dumb-luck favorable contract and an unexpected salary-cap windfall. Durant joining a ready-made juggernaut is the greatest free-agent coup since LeBron James twice switched teams, and it might appear to be gluttony. But despite outside complaints of an unfair, bad-for-basketball union, members of the Warriors believe adding a four-time scoring champion to an already lethal offense was necessary.
“There were some holes and some weaknesses that we had,” Andre Iguodala said, “and we got a monster that filled them all. We got a monster on our team right now.”
An embarrassing end became the impetus for the Warriors to turn what could’ve been a two- or three-year run into a potential dynasty because Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all in their respective primes and the organization has been set up with the financial stability to keep them together. They swapped the inconsistency and unfulfilled potential of Harrison Barnes for one of the game’s three best players and also established a much more palatable roster hierarchy in terms of salary and shots.