Real Kevin Durant Is Under a Cloud, and Warriors Need Him to Step Out

OAKLAND -- Stephen Curry and Quinn Cook were the last players off the Warriors' practice floor Tuesday, leaving a few minutes after Kevin Durant, who extended his own grueling session with assistant coach Willie Green.

Durant was dripping sweat as Warriors media relations ace Raymond Ridder tried persuading him to do what he'd so often done since arriving in July 2016: Take a few questions from local reporters.

Durant shook his head and, barely breaking stride, kept walking, into and through the weight room, fading from view.

This is unusual. Allow me to correct myself. It used to be unusual.

The vast majority of the time since KD became a Warrior in July 2016, he has been accessible, cordial, honest and often expansive. He'd share opinions, some on the record and some off. He'd talk basketball, music, sociology, philanthropy and more. His personality -- a blend of common sense, curiosity, awareness and humor, sometimes biting -- was that of the young/old soul sitting by the door to the barbershop.

When I'd give him flak for "flashing your vocabulary," he'd grin and shrug.

That KD, the engaging KD, is taking a break.

Durant's postgame comments were gruff for nine days after the squabble with Draymond Green on Nov. 12. And for the next nine weeks, they upgraded to terse. Over the past week, though, Durant has become withdrawn. His teammates and coaches see and feel it, as do those of us who report on the Warriors.

Oh, KD is doing his work, staying productive on the court and leaving it at that. He's also projecting cheerlessness even as Warriors coach Steve Kerr urges players to seek joy. Durant has his reasons for his current mood, and he's not obligated to share them.

This turn of demeanor coincides with speculation that, upon becoming a free agent in July, he'll head for New York, to the Knicks, to team with Kyrie Irving in hopes of reviving a rudderless franchise. That speculation has been breathing for months, and Durant is playing it right by not addressing it. In a league where players are exercising power at an all-time high, he gets to decide his next employer.

Warriors president Bob Myers, the team executive closest to Durant, has spent his share of moments over the year trying to mitigate whatever concerns reach his ears. Asked Monday about Durant's future, Myers was optimistic the 10-time All-Star would remain in the Bay Area.

"I feel like all our players are happy and want to stay with us and continue with us," Myers said. "I feel like we've got a great environment."

[RELATED: KD to Knicks reportedly more of a Warriors concern]

Maybe Durant will re-sign with the Warriors. He told Yahoo! Sports NBA reporter Chris Haynes in December that he "wanted to make sure I get as much money as I can on my next deal," which would imply he plans to return. The Warriors can offer the $221 million "supermax" over five years. The most another team can offer is $164 million over four years.

Nineteen months have passed since KD, describing his first year with the Warriors, told me "it just feels like this is where you go when you graduate" from the elementary lessons required upon entering the NBA.

Durant since has earned -- in the truest sense of the word -- two NBA Finals MVP awards. He has been a tremendous player, every bit as good as the Warriors hoped when they sent a seven-man delegation to recruit him to the franchise.

If he leaves, the Warriors will have gotten more than their money's worth and Durant will have gotten two -- maybe three -- championships.

If he leaves, he will have his reasons and owe nobody an explanation.

If he leaves for New York, he knows he'll be testing his limits. With an ownership that invites ridicule. With a franchise for which mediocrity would be progress. With a fan base that will expect more than at any time in, oh, about a half-century. And, most of all, he'll place himself in the firing line of America's most relentless and ruthless media.

For now, Durant is performing at an All-Star level. He has been better, more efficient and more consistently impactful at both ends, but not all of that is on him. Yes, there are times when he'll park himself in a corner and become a spectator. There also are times when his teammates seem to forget him until it becomes bail-out time.

[RELATED: Myers explains why Warriors recruit every day]

The Warriors would like to believe their season has another four months to go, that it will in end in June with a third consecutive NBA championship. Meanwhile, they hope Durant can get through whatever is nagging him and become the dude he has been for most of his stay.

And he will, eventually, because natural personality usually returns and because he's innately empathetic, with a heart wired to be a contributor beyond the scope of basketball.

Ask the people at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City. Or the folks at the University of Texas, where Durant has donated millions, as well as himself, to a school at which he spent one year. Ask the folks at Elizabeth House in Oakland. Or the folks at Durant Center, which he personally opened last month in Prince Georges County, Md. There are more on this list, but you get the point.

Durant has too much to offer to stay blue. He'll do whatever he needs to bounce back from whatever it is that's robbing him of his warmth and good spirits.

The Warriors only hope it's sooner rather than later and, in the long term, in the Bay Area at Chase Center, rather than New York or anyplace else.

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