The Golden State Warriors really did broach a trade this summer that could've brought Kevin Durant back to the Bay Area, an idea Stephen Curry whole-heartedly endorsed. Now that he's re-committed to the Brooklyn Nets in wake of the Warriors winning another championship, though, criticism of Durant's decision to bail on Golden State in 2019 free agency is once again making the national rounds.
Asked on Tuesday's edition of ESPN's First Take if Durant should regret leaving the Warriors, Stephen A. Smith didn't hold back.
“Hell yes. I think that that's obvious,” he said. “There's no way around that.”
Durant confirmed months of rumors and speculation about his future plans by signing with the Nets in July 2019, bringing Kyrie Irving with him. Brooklyn traded for James Harden midway through Durant's first healthy season, creating a Big Three that seemed like it could be the centerpiece of basketball's newest dynasty.
Injuries to Irving and Harden—plus his size-18 sneakers—prevented Durant and the Nets from taking down the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks in an instant-classic Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Brooklyn had high hopes for 2021-22, but Irving's refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and Harden's clear discontent with the team derailed their season, culminating in a disheartening four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics after Harden was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers.
It's not just leaving Golden State that irks Smith so much about the trajectory of Durant's career over the past three years. It's also the team and players he decided to join forces with, a choice that's left Durant stuck at two championships—both won with the juggernaut Warriors, of course—as his 34th birthday approaches.
“You leave after all that [success], and where you go matters and who you go to play with matters,” Smith said of Durant. “Steph Curry is a preeminent superstar in this game and the greatest shooter we have ever seen, and now he won. Last year, I said if the Golden State Warriors win, then people are gonna be talking more about KD leaving Steph to join Kyrie than they would be talking about his two titles. Everybody was in an uproar on that side of the camp, so what happened? After the season ended and Steph Curry won the championship and the NBA Finals MVP, what are they talking about? ‘You left Steph Curry, what the hell were you thinking?'”
Smith left open the possibility of Durant flipping the narrative in 2022-23, leading Irving, Ben Simmons and the revamped Nets on a deep playoff run.
But his broader point is that there's no questioning whether all-time great contemporaries like Curry—especially after 2021-22—and LeBron James can lift their teammates to the championship promised land as an undisputed alpha dog. As his 15th season fast approaches, Durant still hasn't done it, a stark reality that would've mattered less had he remained in Golden State to continue racking up titles.
Whether you like Smith or not, there's no debating the legacy significance of Durant's upcoming season in Brooklyn.