Among the reasons Kevin Durant bolted the Thunder for the Warriors (championship rings, player closeness, offense that flows like the Nile, Russell Westbrook’s ball-hogging and geek fashion), there’s one that’s being overlooked:
The presence of assistant coach Ron Adams.
My source on this: Durant himself.
“Ron Adams is the only reason I came here,” Durant said from the dais during Thursday’s introductory news conference at the team’s downtown Oakland practice facility.
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Ron Adams is the only reason I came here.
OK, maybe Durant was joking. Seated on either side of him, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers both laughed.
But just to make certain, I phoned up the 68-year-old Laton native and Fresno Pacific alum who coached both the Sunbirds and Fresno State before embarking on a 25-year career as an NBA assistant (two of those years with Durant in Oklahoma City).
So, Ron, is it true what I heard KD say yesterday, that you’re the only reason he’s a Warrior?
“No, no, no,” Adams replied. “I hope I was a bit of the compilation of things that brought him here. It doesn’t hurt that he knows me and we had a great relationship when we worked together. I’m sure that’s helpful, but really it’s the whole organization. The players were huge in it.”
Even though he knew my question was facetious, Adams gave a serious answer. That’s just the way the man is wired. Lest anyone think – even for a nanosecond – that he was taking a sliver too much credit. Still, it’s clear from Durant’s comment and photos of the two embracing that coach and player share a close bond.
“I’m elated we’re getting Kevin. We have a great connection, no question,” said Adams, a Thunder assistant from 2008-10. “We had some good times together trying to get him to be a better defensive player.”
I thought it was pretty humorous. Kevin and I have a great connection.
Ron Adams, on his reaction to Durant’s joke
Challenging offensive-minded stars to pay more attention on the defensive end is sort of an Adams specialty. He did it with Stephen Curry before the 2014-15 season (after Curry asked Adams what he could do to become a more complete player).
Years earlier, Adams issued a similar challenge to Durant, who was in his second and third NBA seasons during Adams’ tenure in Oklahoma City.
“Kevin is a guy who wants to be better,” Adams said. “He wants to be great, and at that time he was already very good. He wanted to be challenged. Defense wasn’t his strong suit at that point, but he’s continued to grow. I thought he was outstanding in (the Western Conference Finals).”
After the Warriors eliminated the Thunder in Game 7, reversing a 3-1 series deficit, Adams found Durant on the court, hugged him and told him he was proud of his evolution as a player.
After the Warriors eliminated the Thunder in Game 7, Adams found Durant on the court, hugged him and told him he was proud of his evolution as a player.
Now, with Durant joining the Warriors, Adams will witness that evolution up close.
“I thought he played at a level defensively that allowed them to win that series; he’s just grown up a lot,” Adams said. “I marveled while listening to (Thursday’s) press conference.
“There’s this young adult now and he’s thought through things. He’s thought both sides of this decision, and that’s what’s really delightful for me to see. People grow and they become the men they’re capable of becoming.”
Only three weeks have passed since the Warriors suffered their own 3-1 collapse in the NBA Finals – not nearly enough time for Adams to put it behind him. (“That’s a hard series to get out of your craw,” he said.)
Still, it’s a lot easier to turn the page when your team adds the world’s most complete offensive player (Durant) to a lineup that already features the best shooting backcourt (Curry and Klay Thompson) anyone’s ever seen.
While basketball fans and media salivate over those possibilities, Adams will be formulating a plan to prevent Warriors opponents from scoring. And he no longer has Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli as a last line of defense, part of the cost of adding a superstar like Durant.
We lost some really fine gentlemen off this squad, and we lost a lot of rim protection.
“We lost some really fine gentlemen off this squad, and we lost a lot of rim protection,” Adams said. “Bogut and Ezeli really were tough in that regard. We probably will not have that same kind of dynamic. I think the two fellows we signed, (David) West and (Zaza) Pachulia, are different kinds of defenders and very skilled. I’m looking forward to them, but we did lose a lot.”
The Warriors still have defensive aces Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, and Thompson is skilled guarding the ball. But that’s not enough. Adams will need consistent effort on that end of the court from Durant, who is listed at 6-foot-9 but whom many suspect is closer to 6-11 or 7 feet.
“We are going to have to get that from him, and we’re going to need other players to step up,” Adams said. “I don’t think there’s anyone on our team who doesn’t understand that if we’re to win another NBA championship, it has to be done on both sides of the ball.
“I thought last year, with the ease we won at times, we probably took a step back defensively. Play a couple really good quarters, then fiddle around. I’d like to see a change in that mentality.”
I thought last year with the ease we won at times we probably took a step back defensively. Play a couple really good quarters, then fiddle around.
By winning 73 games during the regular season, the Warriors set themselves up for failure by falling short of the championship.
It’ll be doubly so next season with Durant in the fold.
Adams acknowledges the pressure of those immense expectations but claims he wouldn’t want it any other way. Especially when you’ve coached on teams that went 23-59 (Bulls in 2003-04) and 25-57 (Celtics in 2013-14).
“How would we not want the pressure of being with a great group of guys that is also extremely talented?” Adams asked. “For an old dog like me it’s a very good position to be in. I’m not going to do this that much longer, and I’m really blessed to be around guys like this. Not only from a talent standpoint but from who they are as people.”