Barber: Resolution of Warriors rift is in Kevin Durant's hands

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Remember when the emergence of Alfonzo McKinnie was the most interesting story in Golden State Warriorworld? My, how things can change in a couple days.

Drama found the Warriors. It has been a major thread running through the NBA this season, engulfing the Minnesota Timberwolves (Jimmy Butler vs. the franchise), the Los Angeles Lakers (Magic Johnson vs. Luke Walton) and other teams. The Warriors were immune, cocooned in layers of championship good vibes and coach Steve Kerr’s plea to appreciate, rather than attack, the 2018-19 season.

It lasted nearly a month. Then Draymond Green and Kevin Durant exchanged unpleasantries on the court in Los Angeles. Suddenly a hole has been torn in the cocoon, and you can see the worms.

Now even reporters with deep ties to the Warriors’ locker room, including The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, are openly wondering whether this is the crack that will ultimately become a fault line and crumble a dynasty. We all know the Warriors won’t be great forever. But no one except their detractors has been willing to believe it could happen any time soon.

I have a couple thoughts on this blowup. One is that the Warriors did the right thing when they suspended Green for one game.

This is not a consensus opinion. Some worry that the suspension can be read as the organization taking Durant’s side over Green’s, and that the fiery power forward will never forgive them. Remember, this is a man who can still recite, in order, the names of the 34 players drafted ahead of him in 2012. He will certainly cling to the embarrassment of a public rebuke and the loss of a game check worth approximately $120,000.

Nevertheless, it was the right thing to do. Professional athletes yell at each other all the time — more than you know. It’s part of the competitive makeup of these men and women. The exchanges can be frank, rude, even insulting. But there are certain lines you don’t cross.

You don’t talk about a teammate’s family, or his/her significant other. And you don’t talk about their money.

Green did just that at Staples Center on Monday, taking an argument with Durant that was strictly about something that happened on the court, and pivoting to the uncertainty over Durant’s looming contract decision. Green also reportedly called his lanky teammate a derogatory, emasculating word. That’s a transgression, too. Honestly, though, it’s a lesser offense in the hierarchy of the locker room.

Suspending Green for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta at Oracle Arena was a clear signal. The Warriors have always tolerated his outbursts, because they are an inseparable part of what makes him great, which is an inseparable part of what makes the Warriors great. But even Green can’t cross those red lines.

The more important question, of course, is how this will affect the Warriors for the rest of the season, and beyond. And despite what you might hear on the radio, no one knows. Probably not even Kevin Durant or Draymond Green.

But I would argue that the process of healing this fracture lies squarely in Durant’s hands — the same hands that clapped for the basketball, but remained empty, after Green’s rebound at the end of regulation against the Clippers.

Green was incensed in that charged moment at Staples. He was upset enough to curse one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and to broach the long-simmering, taboo subject of Durant’s contract. You can bet that Green is ticked off about the suspension, too. But I’d be surprised if he doesn’t let go of those grievances.

We’ve all known volatile people. They can leave jangled nerves and bad feelings in their wake. The irony is that they themselves tend to feel much better after an outburst. It’s like they unburden themselves. Don’t you think Green is this type of person? He yells at teammates on the court and in the locker room, and sometimes they yell back. And then he moves on.

Remember when Green and Kerr had to be separated at halftime of a game in Oklahoma City in February 2016? Supposedly, it got so bad that police stationed in the hallway nearly intervened. Now Green talks about how much he loves Kerr, and the coach consistently calls Green the “heartbeat” of his team. I have no reason to doubt their sincerity.

So yeah, I think Green can get over this. But what about Durant?

The MVP of the past two NBA Finals is a different personality type altogether. Green rages and relaxes in a wavelength pattern, with soaring highs and ebbing lows. Durant is no automaton, but he is much harder to read.

One word I would use to describe Durant is “sensitive.” That sounds like a knock in the world of sports, but I don’t mean it that way. Clearly, it hasn’t held him back. Durant is a generational talent. But he seems to internalize the world’s opinions more than most great athletes.

Durant took tremendous heat for leaving Oklahoma City in favor of the Warriors in the summer of 2016, and he was unable to brush it off, even as his new team bore down on championships. The outcry confused him and ate at him. His inability to let it go led to one of the most embarrassing moments of his career, when he was caught using a “burner account” on Twitter to debate detractors and criticize his former Thunder coach.

Can Durant let this one go? Can he forgive Green for belittling him and for bringing up the contract? (Durant can opt out of his Warriors deal after this season, which would immediately set off rabid competition for his services.) Will it ultimately affect his decision of whether to stay or leave? Or can he forgive, if not forget, Green’s rebuke?

If Durant can get past it, the spat might actually be good for the Warriors. His status for 2019 was the elephant in the room. Everyone was sick of talking about it, sick of speculating. It wore on the Warriors brass, and on the players. Green might have done it in the style of an active volcano, but at least he exposed the elephant.

If, on the other hand, Durant carries this slight around like a sliver of ice in his heart, it will change the near future of the Warriors. They would be a very good team without him, of course, but no longer a prohibitive favorite.

I really don’t believe Durant has decided where he wants to play in 2019-20. And he probably doesn’t yet know exactly how he feels about the confrontation with Green. Durant’s determination will have huge ramifications for the Warriors. This time, the ball is firmly in his hands.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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