Kevin Durant capped an incredible first season with the Warriors with an NBA title and a Finals MVP, leading Golden State in scoring throughout the playoffs and for the bulk of the regular season. But it was far from a foregone conclusion that he'd be able to fit in right away with a historically great team that had one of the game's most deadly scorers already in place.
Stephen Curry deserves a ton of credit for making Durant's transition as seamless as possible.
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The NBA is an ego-driven league whose best players have a tremendous amount of confidence, and there's an alpha dog on almost every team who demands the bulk of the touches offensively. It's a right that few players would be willing to give up once it's been unequivocally earned, yet as we continue to find out as the seasons roll on, Curry is not like most other players of his status.
"The stuff you hear about Steph as far as sacrificing and being selfless and caring about his teammates, caring about other people is real," Durant told reporters after Golden State's title-clinching win over the Cavaliers. "It's not a fake. It's not a facade. He doesn't put on this mask or this suit every single day to come in here and fake in front of you guys. He really is like that. And it's amazing to see a superstar who sacrifices, who doesn't care about nothing but the group.
"He obviously wants to play well. He obviously wants to show who he is, because he's competitive. But it's all about the group."
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The Warriors, coming off a 73-9 regular season, didn't need Durant to have a shot at winning another title. But they did need him to become one of the greatest teams of all time, and that required all egos being set aside. Not all players would be able to do what Curry did so readily and so generously, especially when considering how quickly his star was on the rise.
Some of the best teams in NBA history had great players with tremendous egos that needed to be tamed in order for them to reach a consistent level of championship success. Phil Jackson won 11 titles as a head coach; six with the Bulls, five with the Lakers. His detractors will tell you that it was easy to win titles when you had the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, or Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in the primes of their respective careers. Yet Jordan's ultra-competitive, prickly personality would have torn apart those Bulls if not for Jackson's Zen-like ways, and those Shaq and Kobe teams in L.A. never would have won three titles had Jackson not been able to masterfully prevent them from trying to metaphorically kill each other every single day.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played under Jackson on three of those title teams in Chicago, never had that much work to do where Curry was concerned. The point guard with unlimited range stepped aside willingly for the greater good, made KD feel comfortable from the jump, and the rest, as they say, was history.
"Steph definitely took a back seat to start the season until he realized we didn't need him to take a back seat," Draymond Green said after the Warriors won the title. "We need you to be aggressive as you're going to be. And when Steph turned that corner, I think it was after Christmas Day, when he turned that corner, we became almost unbeatable."
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"Yeah, I learned a lot about myself as well," Curry said, "just understanding -- there's a point probably, we talked about it a lot this year, about the Christmas Day game and events leading up to that game where we understood how we all needed to be aggressive and be the players that we are in what we bring to the table every single night, that we can all show up every night and be ourselves and really achieve the potential that we all have together. And there's a point where I tried to analyze and control the situation and make sure everybody was happy and getting shots and things like that, but honestly after that Christmas Day game I kind of understood that we have such high-IQ players that if I could be aggressive, do what I do and need to do every single night, everything will kind of flow from that.
"I think the proof is obviously in what we were able to accomplish from that point on in the regular season, being 16-1 in the playoffs, everybody being the best version of themselves and putting all the puzzle pieces together. I'm just happy to be a leader on this team that can understand the goals that we set out for ourselves and try to get it done the best way we could."
Curry's selflessness is what allowed Durant to become all that he could this season. It's also what's set these Warriors up as the favorites to win the title for years to come.