LAS VEGAS — The basketball world was given a glimpse of Kevin Durant(Kevin Durant Jersey) sharing the court with a couple of his new Golden State Warriors teammates for the first time Monday as USA Basketball opened its pre-Olympic training camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center.
Durant closed practice by participating in a shooting drill with fellow wing players Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, with the trio expected to make up the bulk of Golden State’s starting lineup next season.
Before they’ll play any meaningful basketball together, there’s still plenty to digest about Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and sign with the back-to-back Western Conference champions — particularly where things stands with Durant’s relationship with OKC and his former running mate, Russell Westbrook.
“It’s sports,” Durant said. “They unite everybody. I had a chance to play in Oklahoma City for eight years and see the city come together and support the team. I understand where they’re coming from. It hurt me. I was hurt for a few days because I knew I hurt so many people in Oklahoma City by changing teams.
“Of course, they’re going to say what they have to say, because everybody is emotional. I understand that. Sports is a way to get away from the real world for a second. We provide that. I understand how they feel. I can’t really say anything to make them feel any different; I’ll still go out there and be who I am as a basketball player and as a person. Like I say, life moves on.”
Durant was asked if Westbrook’s own impending free agency in the summer of 2017 impacted how he chose his destination, and he downplayed its significance as a deciding factor.
“We didn’t really talk about that,” Durant said. “We didn’t really talk about anything at all.”
There’s been plenty of talk in the past two weeks, of course, about just what happened to cause Durant to join the Warriors after his Thunder were up 3-1 on them in the Western Conference finals.
“I’m shocked we did get him, you know?” said Green, who said he practiced on the opposite team of Durant on Monday. “You don’t get a top-three player in the world. Some would say the best player in the world. Obviously it’s all someone’s opinion, but you don’t get that every day. That’s just not normal. I’m not going to act like it’s something that happens every day. It’s one of the biggest moves in NBA history. I hope everybody else is shocked, because I am.”
It was a preferable type of shock for Green after what he and Warriors went through in the Finals, having their 73-win season marred as they couldn’t complete the championship run after being up 3-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“It definitely … it helps relieve that, because it’s something you can really grasp and look ahead with, and it’s something special to look ahead with,” Green said. “It helps out a lot, for sure.”
Durant’s decision sent a ripple effect through the league. The Golden State roster was completely overhauled, including Harrison Barnes — now an Olympic teammate of Durant’s — ending up signing with the Dallas Mavericks.
“Golden State is a first-class organization,” Barnes said. “They were communicating with me the whole time and telling me they were going to be active in free agency. If they didn’t get their guy, they would come back around to me. That allowed me to process in my mind what it would be like to go somewhere else, and that’s what happened. I was able to go to a great team. There’s no bad blood between us. We accomplished what our goal was when I first got drafted, which was to win a championship.”
Durant — who declined to go too in depth into his various free agency meetings other than to say Tom Brady tempted him to be “ready to just say, ‘OK, Let’s go,’ ” and join the Boston Celtics — said he was at peace with where he ended up, no matter what criticism it might bring.
“I can’t make a decision on my life because everybody else is going to be upset about it,” Durant said. “I just told myself to put me first and really think about what I wanted. And this is what I wanted. We’ll see what happens.
“I’m just going to experience everything the way I experience it. I always think about the game of basketball, so if I focus on the game of basketball, I don’t worry about if I’m a hero or a villain. I focus on the people who keep it positive and hold me accountable, and push me to my limits. Life goes on at some point.”