Throughout the 2018-19 NBA season, Durant’s impending free agency decision loomed over the Warriors and was constantly a topic of conversation around the league. After watching the first two episodes of ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, KD’s former teammate, Draymond Green, talked about similarities between the end of the Bulls’ run in the 90s and the end of the Warriors’ run with Durant.
“It definitely hit close to home. Ironically, our season was the 20th anniversary of that season. And we have a very important piece of our season, who was a piece of that season, which was Steve Kerr.”Draymond Green, WRTS After Party
Green gave credit to Phil Jackson for acknowledging the Bulls’ players that 1997-98 was probably going to be their final run together, removing the elephant in the room and facing the players with the truth, allowing them to focus on what’s happening on the court solely.
“I think Phil did what was great, which is to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Because all year, if Phil doesn’t do that, all year everyone else is dealing with that somewhere. And whether it’s coming in questions [from the media], so now once you get these questions from the media, we’ve already addressed that as a team. We don’t need to talk about that. And our season was a little different from the standpoint of it was contracts, but it was on players. It wasn’t necessarily the organization.”Draymond Green, WRTS After Party
And when you think about it, it seems that KD’s drama was all the talk surrounding the Warriors, whether it was about his altercation with Draymond during a game vs. The Clippers, his use of burner accounts or his upcoming free agency decision. Green mentions internal feuds that soared around the team the whole season, making it hard to focus on the game as they were all waiting for Durant’s decision.
“So, for instance, Kevin took the one-year deal on his own. So that was kind of the elephant in the room. And although Steve’s approach was like, ‘Hey, guys, let’s approach this year because we don’t know what next year brings,’ you’ve got Kevin’s contract, you’ve got [Klay Thompson’s] contract, and I kind of got thrown in that contract thing, although I had another year after that year, which was this year. And so that was kind of the elephant in the room, and although Steve would kind of hit on it, [saying] ‘Let’s just enjoy this year for what it is because we don’t know what next year holds,’ it didn’t necessarily carry the same weight because what should have happened was Kevin come out and say, ‘Hey, man, this is it, so let’s do this,’ or, ‘This isn’t it.’”Draymond Green, WRTS After Party
Warriors’ players and coaches constantly had to answer the questions about Durant’s free agency decision, while Durant never publicly revealed his intentions for the summer. There was a lot of speculation about his decision and the burden of dealing with day-to-day questions about it was born by other players. Green mentions that due to talk about Durant’s contract, questions were asked about his and Klay Thompson’s contracts.
He and Klay were talking about finishing their careers as Warriors, and then you had Durant who was saying that his future is uncertain and that it didn’t matter to him. They weren’t on the same page, and constant outside noise about KD resulted in internal difficulties for the team. The overall level of the team’s talent was so high that in terms of regular-season record, their performance wasn’t suffering. Still, it was evident that something was off, especially in comparison with previous years.
It seems that Green wishes that KD used the same approach as Phil Jackson did with the Bulls for their last run together. All the members of the Bulls organization were aware that the 1997-98 season was their farewell year, which motivated them for a final push together. Not having the elephant in the room allowed them to focus solely on the game.
Granted, the media back then wasn’t what it is today. We can only assume that if it were, it wouldn’t be as easy for the players to block the outside noise, because it would probably be brought up daily. Instead, Kerr handled the situation the way it fits his personality as a person and as a coach, avoiding the internal conflict and trying to be positive about the whole thing.
“There was always an elephant in the room amongst us, as opposed to with [the Bulls], they didn’t have that elephant. [General manager Jerry Krause] had said it was Phil’s last year. Phil had told them this was the last dance. Mike already said, ‘Well, if Phil ain’t coming back next year, I’m not either.’ So everybody knew it was Mike’s last year. They didn’t have that elephant. Whereas I think we had a huge elephant sitting in the room, and Steve was trying to address it as best as he could, but it was kind of out of his hands.”Draymond Green, WRTS After Party