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  1. OAKLAND – The regular season was just one game old, and the noise about Kevin Durant’s free agency was already growing louder yet again.
  2.  
  3. Only this time, in stark contrast to his time in Oklahoma City that came to a stunning end three summers ago, the decibel levels were rising from the inside.
  4.  
  5. This was a week before the New York trip where that goofy billboard didn’t help the Knicks’ chances of landing the Golden State Warriors star next summer, and nearly a month before his Monday dust-up with Draymond Green in Los Angeles that, as our Marcus Thompson wrote, is so significant that it might derail the whole dynasty. Durant and I were sitting at the team’s practice facility in Oakland on that Oct. 18 day, chatting for a story in which the top Warriors players discussed the question of which team posed the greatest threat to their reign.
  6.  
  7. Yet as Durant gave his view on the competition, with all the other Warriors players gone on the nearby courts and those blue cushions beneath him, general manager Bob Myers walked by on his way into the team’s offices and made a kidding comment as he passed.
  8.  
  9. “Where’s he going in free agency?” he said with a smile before continuing on.
  10.  
  11. Durant offered a polite chuckle to the out-of-context quip, and then kept talking about why Boston was a worthy foe. But it was weird, innocently weird, but weird nonetheless.
  12.  
  13. On its face, Myers’ aside was a simple acknowledgement that us media types would be analyzing this situation from then until season’s end. But it was also one of many times when the Warriors, who face this uncertainty for a second consecutive season because Durant chose to sign a one-plus-one deal last summer, seemed unsure what tone to take here when it comes to this free agency elephant in the room.
  14.  
  15. This Durant dynamic was uncomfortable then, and it’s getting stranger and more strained by the day. Funny how the fear of losing one of the best players on the planet can make people do, well, funny things. Let us count the uncomfortable ways …
  16.  
  17. May 24
  18. There was the TNT saga during Game 5 of the conference finals against Houston, when Kerr – who had agreed to wear a microphone for the network’s popular behind-the-scenes segment – used an old Michael Jordan story on Durant to illustrate the need for less isolation play and was furious when the conversation was aired. Kerr, as a result, would refuse to take part in that in-game practice until The Finals. The notion of Durant being corrected in public by his coach – by way of an old MJ story, no less – was clearly one they would have rather avoided.
  19.  
  20. June 3
  21. There was my chat with Draymond during The Finals on June 3, when the chatter about Durant possibly leaving led to the below exchange after Game 2 of The Finals that was never published. Days before, Durant had answered a question about the Houston Rockets in a curious way – “Anything can happen over the summer,” he said – and reports of strange vibes began to surface. All along the way, there were questions about whether Durant was growing tired of dealing with Green’s abrasive style.
  22.  
  23. “I don’t want to think about (Durant leaving),” Green said when told of Durant’s quote and the conversation it stirred. “I don’t worry about it. All we’re focusing on is winning a championship right now. Everything else will take care of itself in its time. We’ve got a tall task right now, and that’s our focus.”
  24.  
  25. Nothing to see here, in other words, until there was.
  26.  
  27. June 12
  28. There was the parade snafu back in June, when Myers joked about how Durant didn’t deserve the same “any contract you want” treatment that Steph Curry had enjoyed because he wasn’t part of the original core.
  29.  
  30. “That was different,” he said to play-by-play man and M.C. Bob Fitzgerald. “He’s been here from the way before days. He’s earned it.”
  31.  
  32. This theme of Durant being reminded that he’s not one of the Warriors originals, as we learned in Thompson’s column, is now haunting them in the worst kinds of ways.
  33.  
  34. Sept. 24
  35. There was the message sent on media day, when Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to take the transparent approach to it all.
  36.  
  37. “Nobody knows what’s ahead,” he admitted then.
  38.  
  39. At the time, the notion of enjoying this ride without worrying what lie ahead looked so much more reachable.
  40.  
  41. Oct. 16
  42. There was the odd opening night exchange between Durant and owner Joe Lacob, who jokingly asked the nine-time All-Star if he might sign a new contract right on the spot as he handed him his second championship ring.
  43.  
  44. But these past two days – the Green blow-up on the court on Monday in the overtime loss to the Clippers and the one-game suspension a day later – have taken this already-awkward experience to a whole new level. And now, with the Warriors having made an example out of Green in the kind of way that he’ll surely never forget, the free-agency factor looms larger than ever.
  45.  
  46. While sources say that Green’s treatment of Durant on the court was the primary reason for their choice to take approximately $120,000 out of his bank account, it’s clear that his caustic comments to Durant that related to free agency played a pivotal part here too. If only we lived in a world with unending candor, where the press release might include a line like, “We’d strongly prefer that Draymond doesn’t pack Kevin’s bags for him and book his flight on one of those Alaska Airlines planes that feature his smiling face and incredible wingspan, and so he was suspended.”
  47.  
  48. At minimum, maybe take a page out of the Clippers’ guide to minimizing free agency risk. When they fired Bruce Bowen from his post as television color commentator in August, no one within the organization ran from the real reason why: He made critical comments about one of their top free agent targets, Kawhi Leonard, and so he simply had to go. But make no mistake, this is not that – not even close.
  49.  
  50. As NBA crises go, this is potentially colossal. And when Durant was forced to address it all after the Warriors’ win over Atlanta that came without Green, it had gone from uncomfortable to downright untenable. It didn’t take a sports psychologist to read between these lines.
  51.  
  52. Durant when asked about the strangeness of Green’s absence:
  53.  
  54. “I mean his presence has been a part of this team for a while, even before I got here, he’s been a huge staple in this organization. So obviously it’s definitely weird not having him around with everything that went down. But that’s what happens. Shit happens in the NBA, and I just try to do my best to move on and be a basketball player. I don’t got nothing else to do but to be the best player I can be every single day. I try not to worry about nothing else.”
  55.  
  56. Durant when asked to describe the nature of his friendship with Green, whose role in recruiting him to come their way during that Hamptons Five visit is well-chronicled:
  57.  
  58. “Uh, I don’t even think that really matters at this point right now. I mean we just had a game. Anybody going to talk about the game?”
  59.  
  60. By the time Durant left for the night, the affable nature that he so often displays was gone. He put that yellow hood over his head and walked quickly down the Oracle Arena hallway with a member of the team’s security staff at his side, declining an additional interview along the way.
  61.  
  62. He couldn’t get to the exits quickly enough.
  63.  
  64. (Photo: Gene Sweeney Jr. / Getty Images)
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