Four days and six teams later, the naked and breathless pursuit of Kevin Durant is over. Having explored his options, the free agent forward reportedly says he’ll make a decision no later than Monday.
The Warriors are desperately hoping he chooses them.
They might even be praying, because the other options are distant second or third or fourth or ninth.
They’d bite their lip and live with bringing back Harrison Barnes, but they clearly and with good reason prefer Durant. They’d accept the return of centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, but they’d prefer Durant, along with whatever big man that follows him through the door.
For it’s these three incumbent Warriors that are in the uncomfortable position of possibly returning despite knowing the team was actively seeking a replacement. And, suddenly, the chemistry so often cited as crucial to their success becomes compromised.
Though Warriors players and coaches are professionals, demonstrating in recent seasons an ability to collectively fight through various challenges, they’ve never faced anything so tricky as if Barnes and, to a lesser degree, Bogut, were to return.
It would not be the same, can’t be the same.
Barnes, who is not a member of the team’s identified core, suddenly would be drawing the biggest paycheck. And he’d being cashing them mere months after submitting an NBA Finals so woeful it played a significant role in denying the Warriors a second consecutive championship.
And, moreover, it cost the Warriors access to the historical gold that comes with the distinction of being the best team in NBA history. The 2015-16 Warriors will forever be recognized as much for their great failure (losing in The Finals) as for their astonishing success (league-record 73 wins).
Already designated for replacement by Durant, Barnes’ performance in The Finals surely made ever more urgent the Warriors’ desire for KD. Durant’s arrival would allow the Warriors to immediately dismiss Barnes neat and clean, with a handshake and a farewell to Dallas, should that offer sheet materialize.
Durant’s rejection, though, would force the Warriors to consider matching an offer sheet having Barnes around for a while.
There’s no point in going over the potential replacements for Barnes because the only way he’s certain to leave is if Durant decides to join the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Again, that’s the fantasy the Warriors wish to realize.
What we know for sure is that the Warriors next season will be a very different team, irrespective of Durant’s decision.
They’ll have a remodeled coaching staff, from the lead assistant to the player development coaches. Steve Kerr already misses Luke Walton, and he’s going to miss him even more once camp opens.
The Warriors also will have a different dynamic in the locker room, which over the past two seasons was perhaps the NBA’s most tranquil.
If Durant shows up, their mission will have been accomplished and they can all go play ball.
But if he doesn’t, and if it’s more of Barnes and his massive salary, it won’t be easy to presume serenity in the sanctuary. The Warriors realize this. They understand what it means. They dearly wish to avoid it.