Here’s a fun fact: Stephen Curry has never lost a playoff.
Now he’s definitely lost in the postseason. And yes, he and the Warriors failed to make it out of the play-in last season.
But even as a freshman in his third year in 2013, Curry didn’t come out of the postseason in four games.
Kevin Durant held the same title until Monday night, when his Brooklyn Nets were eliminated from the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.
Now, when I say the Nets are Durant’s team, I don’t mean an offhand recognition of his on-court prowess.
No, the Nets are Durant’s team. In a way that only LeBron James can match, Durant’s influence in Brooklyn is unlimited.
The head coach was his boyfriend. The front office follows his orders. And so you can put that awkward exit from the first round at his feet.
As former Bay Area News Group Warriors writer Wes Goldberg told me Monday night on my KNBR show, “There’s a difference between player powers and player rights.”
You might argue that Durant and his select associates Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons have crossed that line.
And if conversations about this league can’t go beyond consistently comparing Steph Curry to Durant, then we also have to admit that Curry has never come close to crossing the line between empowerment and rights.
Perhaps that’s why the Warriors are one win away from the second round, looking at a path to the NBA Finals that’s much smoother than it seemed just a few weeks ago.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Nets were the boldest experiment in NBA history. The one that has failed miserably so far.
Three years ago, Nets owner Joe Tsai and his general manager, Sean Marks, in an effort to carve out a spot in the market, struck a deal with Durant and Irving they couldn’t refuse:
Here is the NBA team. You may not own it, but you two will be in command. And since Irving’s head seemed to be anywhere but on the court, this is really Durant’s team.
Tsai and Marks must have seen the success of the Heat with LeBron James and the subsequent success of the Warriors and thought, “Building a super team isn’t that hard.”
Hire talent builders, put a laid-back but competitive guy named Steve in charge, and fill the rest of the roster with role-players who want to live in New York and play at the bare minimum.
If only it were that easy.
Now, Durant was unable to play that first year in Brooklyn due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Irving only played 20 games due to a shoulder injury.
But what are the Nets’ excuses for their postseason failures over the past two years? How can they explain the fact that the trio of Durant, Irving and James Harden played 16 games together and won one playoff series before Harden decided he wanted to leave Brooklyn a year after arriving?
Surely Duran and Irving would never blame themselves for the shortcomings of their team.
And while Durant is smart enough not to give up the game, his team-mate in basketball offense Irving pulled through Monday night with no problem:
“When I say I’m here with Kevin, I think what that really means is that we’re running this franchise with Joe and Sean,” Irving said after the Nets’ loss in Game 4. “Only our group of family members, which is in our dressing room, in our organization.”
Could you imagine Curry saying that?
The Warrior Guard has a major influence on the organization. Actually more than he shows. But the only time there’s been real concern with or around the Warriors since he became one of the best players in the league was when Durant was around.
No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
And no matter what level of control a player has over a team, star players set the culture for their teams in the NBA. It `s naturally.
But it’s hard to win. It takes incredible talent, no doubt, but it also requires dedication, which is becoming increasingly rare in today’s league; hell, these days.
It still exists in guys like Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo, brilliant players who are happy to play the role of a superstar but who don’t need to praise their team’s success. These are players who empower others, not just themselves. They also trust other people in the organization to do their jobs.
They are talented to the point where they can be truly indispensable, but they are also smart enough to know the truth:
They can have whatever they want in this world. But no one—not even Curry or Durant—can have everything they want.
Maybe the Nets will sort things out in the coming years. I am skeptical.
It’s probably as good as it was for the Warriors with Curry in last place in his career. We will see.
But when the two great players parted ways, I don’t think anyone foresaw a future where the Nets would be a perpetual disappointment (if they made anyone feel anything at all) and the Warriors after a couple of truly lean years back in position to seriously challenge for the title.
Durant should have his number on the rafters at the Chase Center. Oklahoma City and Brooklyn too.
But if you’re wondering why one day Curry would put up a statue in front of the arena – probably with Draymond Green and Clay Thompson, because that’s how he behaves – this season, the difference in the two teams is why.