There are 45 minutes until the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant is methodically going through his pregame routine, taking shots from various spots on the floor. As he makes his way toward the left corner a fan behind him yells out.
“Draymond hates you!”
A couple of nights earlier in Atlanta, Durant heard the same thing while he was at the foul line during the game.
“Draymond hates you!” a section of fans chanted from the top of the lower level. “Draymond hates you!”
Hawks fans sound off on Kevin Durant when he’s at the free throw line, chanting “Draymond hates you.”
Those chants have become the new normal for the Warriors on the road in the wake of Durant and Green’s much-publicized blowup at the end of a game in Los Angeles last month. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, it was unclear how much the episode would affect the team’s chemistry, Durant’s future and the group’s chase to become the first back-to-back-to-back NBA champion since the 1999-2000 to 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers.
However, as the Warriors prepare to host the same Clippers team on Sunday that they faced the night of Durant and Green’s confrontation, they have put the soap opera behind them.
“I know the hope is that [incident] will make us fall off, but it ain’t,” Green told ESPN. “It’ll never happen like that. We good.”
From the beginning of this season — one the Warriors always knew could be the last with this group — Green understood more than most just how sensitive Durant could be to criticism from the outside. The close friends talked about trying to block everything out.
“In the world we live in, there’s so much that sometimes you can forget to tune stuff out,” Green told ESPN. “Sometimes so much is coming at you that you can’t tune it out. You need someone there to say, ‘Hey, forget that.'”
Green’s personality in how he deals with criticism has always been different from Durant’s, but the two have developed a tight relationship, even in the aftermath of the drama of their blowup and the unwanted attention it brought to the team. For Green, tuning out that attention was as simple as going about his normal routine.
“If I haven’t already told you that many times,” Green said at one point, “but I really don’t care what people think.”
Durant, on the other hand, has a history of pushing back on people via social media and has been open about how comments can sometimes affect him. The difference in this case was that Green’s comments hit too close to home. This wasn’t an anonymous Twitter troll challenging the two-time Finals MVP — it was one of his closest friends on the team questioning his allegiance to the group. The words clearly hurt Durant, who fell into a morose mood during the four-game losing streak that followed in the wake of the Staples Center blowup, but they never broke him. In fact, he said he feels more confident than ever in his ability to filter out the noise surrounding him.
“I’m just building great relationships with people and having real talks with people that I love,” Durant told ESPN. “Just having an understanding of what’s most important to me, especially during the season. And just having a great support system around you that understands exactly what you do, and how important it is to you. They just try to assist you and make your life as easy as possible when you set those boundaries on what you want.”
While Durant sought counsel from those in his inner circle, he and Green also made it a point not to shy away from each other. The pair had some tough moments in the first few days but quickly returned to normal. They are laughing and joking with each other before games, like nothing ever happened. During a recent practice at Detroit Mercy, the pair stood for several photographs together with members of the school’s support staff lining up to stand in between them. To teammates who know and respect both men, the ability to grow and move past what could’ve been a season-altering moment has been crucial.
“You got to have people around that hold you accountable for every single thing that you do in your life,” Durant said. “That’s key. We all need a great team behind us if we want to continue to grow and flourish.”
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It’s not often that Stephen Curry feels helpless in relation to anything regarding the Warriors. But on that Monday night in November, when two of his most important teammates got into the disagreement that would soon become the talk of the league, the former MVP was back in the Oakland area rehabbing a groin injury, unable to serve as the sounding board that has helped define his tenure within the framework of the organization. Curry was dealing with the same frustration many around the team had as they watched the events unfold.
“It was weird,” Curry told ESPN. “It was like I was getting everything secondhand in terms of what was going on and how people were responding to it, and trying to put together a game plan on how I could insert myself into the aftermath. [It was a] sucky feeling in terms of not feeling like I could have helped out.”
Curry spent the next day piecing together the events and talking to his teammates. He has been with them every step of the way since. Curry and the rest of the Warriors players and coaches made it a point to stay in close contact with both Durant and Green as they worked their way through the public argument. The relief from within the group has been palpable over the past few weeks, and Green said he and Durant have patched things up.
“We sat down and rapped,” Green said. “And that’s it. It ain’t really about re-creating the wheel. Brothers get into it all the time. Y’all sit down and y’all figure it out, ain’t nobody else going to figure it out for you. Can’t nobody else figure it out for you. We sit down as men, we figure it out and we move forward.”
“I know the hope is that [incident] will make us fall off, but it ain’t. It’ll never happen like that. We good.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr — who once traded punches with Michael Jordan in one of the NBA’s most famous intrasquad squabbles — knew from experience that dust-ups happen all the time in the NBA, and the one between Durant and Green was relatively tame by comparison. Kerr also knew that, as one of the prominent public faces of one of the most famous teams in the world, it was his job to project positivity — to his players and to the public — while everyone else was trying to tear the Warriors down.
“Coaching is not just what you run and how you practice,” Kerr said. “It’s everything in between. It’s the relationships. It’s people. And so I think the biggest part of a coach’s job is to connect with people on an individual level. You have to address your team. You have to message your team. Your team has to understand what the goal is, what we’re shooting for, but then there’s got to be a million little conversations in between.”
While the Warriors slumped in the days after the Clippers game, losing four straight for the first time in the Kerr era, they’ve re-established themselves as the team to beat regardless of their place in the standings, with Curry and Green back in the lineup.
“I was actually talking to somebody [recently] like we’re probably having a very mediocre season right now,” Green said, “[but] we’re [tied for] first place in the [Western Conference]. So I like where we’re at.”
For all the losses that piled up — Golden State has already lost more games this season than it did during the entire 2015-16 regular season — the Warriors never broke. There was too much trust built up over the past two-plus seasons between Green and Durant to have one moment divide them and the team. Durant and Green, along with the rest of their teammates, always understood they were playing for something larger than themselves this season.
“We still got some work to do in terms of getting back to who we are,” Curry said. “But yeah, to be honest, it could [have been] an opportunity for us to kind of really splinter and let emotions and all that type of stuff truly disrupt who we are as a team, but that’s not going to happen.”
Because of what Durant has already been through during his time in Oakland, Green believed, even before the outburst, that Durant was emotionally better equipped to deal with all the outside voices whispering about next summer and the potential breakup of the Warriors.
“I think so,” Green said. “But you also get better with age. He’s older, he’s more wiser, he’s been through more things. And most things in life — you get better with time. I think that’s one of them.”
Durant shared a similar assessment recently, while describing why he feels more confident in his own voice than ever before.
“The majority of young males who hit this age, and who’ve experienced some stuff, they tend to grow for the better and learn from everything that they’ve been through,” he said. “And try to continue to find what their purpose is on earth. That’s something I’ve been trying to focus on more so than anything, and I get that through basketball. And when I focus solely on that, it starts to show me what my purpose is.”
Where Durant’s purpose will lead him this summer is still anyone’s guess. The Warriors have understood all along that the All-Star forward might leave after this season even if they win the third straight championship the group wants so badly. But what has become clear in recent weeks is that the group is trying to both live in and enjoy the moment. If there was going to be a disagreement of this magnitude, the Warriors say it’s better that it happened early in the season, not closer to the playoffs.
Nothing is promised in the next few months, but what Warriors officials seem sure of is that a single incident of tempers flaring between two friends at the end of a heated game in November isn’t going to determine whatever Durant decides to do in the future. There is an inner confidence within the group that has been strengthened because they didn’t break apart.
“We know what it takes to win,” Green said. “We know how long the season is. You’re going to hit rough patches in the season, I don’t give a f— who you are. It don’t matter what those rough patches are, you’re going to hit them. You just got to stay the course and get through it. We know what we’re capable of as a team, we know what we got to do to win, so it’s just about staying the course. I think we’ve done that.”