Kevin Durant has kept a notably low profile during his offseason recovery following an Achilles tear in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. So under-the-radar that both Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and GM Sean Marks found out the All-NBA forward was signing with Brooklyn via the same Instagram post that announced the decision to the world.
But that doesn't mean the controversy didn't swirl. From the moment Durant headed to the locker room after 11 minutes of play, the second-guessing began: Who made the call? Was he fully recovered from the prior injury? Was everyone aware of the risks?
In an exclusive interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Durant quickly squashed all notion of outside liability.
So we got straight to it. Did the Warriors mishandle the injury?
Durant slowly straightened up with a perplexed expression on his face.
“Hell, no. How can you blame [the Warriors]? Hell, no,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and [director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] working out every day. Right when the series started, I targeted Game 5. Hell, nah. It just happened. It’s basketball.”
Spending day in LA with KD: First interview in two months, Kevin Durant on choosing Brooklyn, how things ended in Golden State, who’s to blame for his injury, rehab update and untold stories. https://t.co/Szu0lXbCQJ— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) August 7, 2019
He said he made his decision to go to Brooklyn on June 30, the first day in which free agents such as himself could reach agreements with teams (but not officially sign).
"I never wanted to disrespect the game by putting my focus on the future," Durant told Yahoo Sports. "It was always about that day, focusing on that day and what was most important that day. And throughout the season, basketball is the No. 1 thing.”
In his interview with Haynes, the discussion turns to Durant's status for the 2019-20 season. The Nets restocked their roster this summer, signing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, former All-Star big man DeAndre Jordan and trading for other players, too. However, it is unknown if Durant will suit up before the season ends if at all.
“I don’t know,” Durant said when asked by Yahoo Sports about him being expected to miss the season. “Just like I didn’t know I was going to get hurt. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m early in the process. So I’m grinding every day. I’m not even trying to think that far. That’s not going to do me any good. So I just try to focus on what I can control right now, second by second. Who knows? We’ll see.
“But once you get to learn your body a little bit more and you realize what this injury is, you know, it’s going to take a lot of work for me to get back to full strength. I was at a point where mentally and physically, my body and mind had met at the right point and I had reached a level that I never reached before. My mind is still there, now my body just has to catch up. Once that does, I’ll be fine.”
As he left the court following his injury in Game 5, there was a moment in which some fans at Scotiabank Arena cheered as he was helped off the court. Durant said he doesn't remember hearing the fans that night, but had a statement for them now.
“It will probably be the last time they will be in the Finals,” Durant told Yahoo Sports with a smirk.
Overall, Durant says he was driven to play in Game 5 of The Finals and was locked in on doing so, with the timeline being solely his own.
“No matter what the series was, I was aiming for Game 5,” he told Yahoo Sports. “That’s why I played when it was 3-1. No matter what, I just wanted to play in the Finals. I just wanted to hoop, especially if I could be out there. I was feeling good leading up to it. I was working out every day. I was gradually getting back to myself doing the two-a-days. I was really locked in on my game and trying to get back. I really wanted to play in that series.”
Durant went on to discuss the decision to leave Golden State for Brooklyn -- "Because I wanted to" -- just what he thought of speculation he was headed to the Knicks -- "That was crazy" -- and how he's handling his rehabilitation: "My mind is still there, now my body just has to catch up. Once that does, I'll be fine."
Even without Durant's injury, last season for the Warriors was a particularly challenging one for the Warriors at times. Early in the season, he and teammate Draymond Green had a tiff that led to Green being suspended one game without pay. At the time, it was speculated that incident led to Durant's decision to move on from Golden State, which Durant squashed in his Yahoo Sports interview.
“Hell, yeah, I’m tired of talking about that [expletive]. Look, we’re grown men,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “We understand what this is. We’re playing basketball for a living. It’s a business. Everybody congratulated me when I went to the Nets. Everybody wished me well, and they know that I’m still a phone call away. So, I just happen to play in a different jersey now. Nothing else is going to change.”
In all, Durant had nothing but positives to say about his time with Golden State -- and it's hard to see how he could not. After signing with the Warriors in the surprise free-agent move of 2016, Durant won back-to-back NBA championships and Finals MVPs.
“It was a life-changing experience,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I grew up as a young adult in OKC and then entering my 30s in Golden State was an enlightening experience, getting to play the game and reaching that level with the players of different backgrounds. It was just so much that went into that experience that elevated me mentally, physically and elevated my game. It was a fun time and I appreciate all that we accomplished together.”