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Roughly 11 months ago, Kevin Durant was fresh off of blowing a 3-1 lead to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Since that Game 7 loss, his life has flipped around 180 degrees. He went from a player with a history of coming up short to virtually seeing nothing but success.
His decision to join the Warriors on July 4, 2016 was criticized by many and there will always be a contingency of fans, writers, etc., who will point out that he had to join up with a 73-win team to get a ring.
But that won’t really matter when all is said and done. It’s kind of hard to argue that he made the wrong decision, when all he’s done since then is win every single step of the way.
His calendar year of winning all started with his 2016 experience on the United States Men’s National Basketball Team in the Rio Olympics.
We followed along closely with all of the action on Amico Hoops and anyone who watched the games will quickly point out that Durant was the most consistent, best player and unquestioned leader on that team.
Team USA went 8-0 and Durant averaged a team-high 19.4 points per game. In a lot of ways, playing on that stacked roster against inferior competition was similar to what his role would be with the talent-loaded Warriors compared to the rest of the NBA.
It’s not hard to see how getting that experience, along with playing with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, may have helped prepare him for his new role in Golden State.
It also couldn’t have hurt to bounce back from a depressing collapse in the Western Conference Finals to come right back and dominate the Olympics. After Durant received his Gold Medal, there was little time to sit back, as he and the Warriors jumped right into the 2016-17 season.
The Warriors spent their season focused, energized and hungry. Green, who didn’t see much playing time in the Olympics (possibly as a form of punishment for his antics in 2016) spent less time talking trash and more taking care of business this season.
Golden State didn’t treat the regular season as a showboating tour (like the last season seemed at times) and the Warriors didn’t act like they deserved a crown before the Playoffs.
They kept winning and playing great team basketball.
Durant didn’t care about his personal scoring numbers being lower than usual. Nor did Thompson, Curry, or Green worry about individual accomplishments.
The last time the Warriors lost a game with Durant in the lineup was February 13. The last time they lost a game with all four All-Stars on the floor was Feb. 4.
So while Russell Westbrook received well-deserved praise for his historic regular season and James Harden enjoyed the spotlight right along with him in the MVP conversation, Durant (somewhat quietly) went about his business and is now one win away from becoming the leading member of the first team to go undefeated in 16 Playoff games.
Even if the Warriors lose Game 4, is there any question that he won’t win Finals MVP?
This calendar year for Durant has proven exactly what Durant’s decision was all about in the first place.
He is not caught up in the conversations about “greatest of all-time,” “choking,” or who deserves the most credit.
From being the best player on the court in Rio in Team USA’s quest for a Gold Medal, to hitting the dagger on the road in Game 3 of the NBA Finals (a type of big moment shot that his Warriors teammates have not been known for hitting in their careers), and capping off his calendar year with his first championship ring and what will almost assuredly be a Finals MVP, Durant’s 2016-17 will stand out in the annals of NBA history.
Westbrook spent his season chasing Oscar Robertson. LeBron James continues to chase the ghost of Michael Jordan. But when all the smoke clears, this year will be remembered most of all for Durant leaving his mark on the game.