Warriors start picking up pieces, shift sights to Durant Sweepstakes

The Cleveland Cavaliers spilled tears of joy like no NBA champion I've had the privilege to see up close in two-plus decades of sticking my notebook (or microphone) where it doesn't belong.

Tyronn Lue, Richard Jefferson, J.R. Smith, Mo Williams and, of course, LeBron James ... bawlers everywhere you looked on that Oracle floor from the privilege of our prime ESPN Radio perch courtside.

Meanwhile ...

The Golden State Warriors, as they trudged off the court to gather in the quietest Dubs locker room we've ever heard, were mostly too shocked to cry.

Those were the scenes that kept replaying in my head on the long flight to the other end of the country Monday, with the NBA draft looming in New York and an offseason of chaos to shift right into after that. Very little of the actual basketball that had just consumed seven games made it onto that loop. It was the array of priceless, impromptu, raw reactions that only such an unforeseen outcome could inspire.

The aftermath.

How this 2015-16 Season of the Previously Unseen, as it proved from start to finish, managed to deliver an ending that openly blindsided two franchises.

Of course, as often tends to happen with the Warriors, no one sums up what we just witnessed better than Steve Kerr. Throughout this magical two-season run that suddenly finds Golden State on a three-game losing skid -- and with no meaningful game for at least four months to do anything about it -- the coach inevitably painted the most poignant picture.

"We've had so many moments of joy together," Kerr shared late Sunday night, reflecting on the manner in which Team 73-9 finished these playoffs with a record of 15-9, falling one win shy of the back-to-back championships so many of us had anticipated once the Warriors seized a 3-1 Finals lead.

"And it was like, 'Wow, we're actually having a moment of sorrow as a team.'"

It's a moment that will surely linger for way more than a good minute.

The Warriors know that (A) there will be little sympathy for their sorrow outside of Bay Area borders and (B) they have to get through 82 more games just for the chance to start avenging this.

Because there will be no appetite, going forward, to make a fuss about any of their regular-season exploits.

Yet you can rest assured that there won't be much energy expended at Warriors Central in the coming days trying to pinpoint what was most responsible for sending them spiraling. The Warriors' elders understand that it doesn't matter much now whether it was Draymond Green's Game 5 suspension, Andrew Bogut's unfortunate knee injury, Klay Thompson's perceived trash talk, Harrison Barnes' disappearance or Stephen Curry's Game 6 unraveling that fueled LeBron and his Cavs with so much belief that they could steal a Game 7 in Oakland.

Those aforementioned team officials are too busy for any of that autopsy talk, since I'm told they've already shifted their focus to free agency.

To the courting of Kevin Durant.

It's the only thing, at this tender stage, that the Warriors can point to for consolation in the wake of the collapse: Durant is legitimately in play now.

Leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the two-time reigning champions was never a narrative that could be sold to KD. But now?

Durant as the over-the-top missing puzzle piece who fixes the Warriors is a job description that the Warriors, for what it's worth, believe No. 35 could presumably stomach.

What we can guarantee, with free agency still 10 days away, is that Golden State is determined to find out. Sources say that the NBA's newly minted NBA runner-ups are all the way in on going for it.

The karma police out there is undoubtedly reveling in the Warriors' demise, given the unforgiving attention owner Joe Lacob keeps getting for his ill-conceived "light-years ahead" speech given to New York Times Magazine in the spring, but Lacob isn't about to get shy on us.

"All I can say," Lacob offered on his way out of the building Sunday night, "is that I will be very aggressive."

Translation: KD recruiting season starts at the first allowable minute.

There will surely be other prominent targets, via signings or trades, whose names are not yet known but will emerge soon. Golden State is a destination now, something the Warriors know and plan to exploit.

"Big-game hunting" is the phrase you constantly hear in team circles.

So bank on a revamped roster when the Warriors, with their eight pending free agents, reconvene for training camp in late September. You can also safely assume that Curry, for all the justified grief he's taking now for a second straight underwhelming Finals, will come back as hungry as King James was to hush the know-it-alls like me by finally lifting the Cleveland Curse.

The summer is bound to be the longest for Curry, who will be subjected anew to all the talk about how "lucky" the Warriors were in the 2015 playoffs and the more favorable path it offered, on top of the valid critiques of both his Finals play and Finals composure. It says here, though, that he'll be fine. He works too hard, in concert with all that shot-making brilliance, not to bounce back once he heals up.

The injury-related excuses are there if he wants to make them, but Chef Curry has made it clear by now that he won't bite. Those who know Steph best say his answer to the criticism will always be the same: Work as hard as anyone on the NBA map in the offseason and come back a better player.

There are certainly valid questions elsewhere on the roster, whether it's the futures of Bogut (31) and Andre Iguodala (32), or the wisdom of matching the (expected) mega offers looming for Barnes and Festus Ezeli, or whom to pursue in free agency if Durant proves not as available as the Warriors hope. Just please tell us how many three-man cores around the league you'd rather go forward with ahead of Steph/Klay/Draymond ... with Kerr in the coach's seat.

Which is why we can say it with supreme confidence: Stephen Curry and his Warriors, love 'em or not, are going nowhere. Thompson and Green have already secured long-term deals, while sources say it's a formality that Curry -- who runs unopposed as the foremost late bloomer in league history -- will be presented with a max five-year deal worth an estimated $175 million as soon as he's eligible for it in the summer of 2017.

‎But, again, that's the easy stuff. Unexpectedly trickier will be getting back to the joyfulness you heard about so often this season, at least until the postseason began and tangible joy became increasingly scarce.

Rockets, Blazers, Thunder, Cavs ... it was a grind from the first half of Game 1 against Houston. From the moment Curry turned his ankle just before halftime of the Warriors' playoff opener, followed by his fateful slip on a Donatas Motiejunas sweat puddle, tension just kept building for a team that won 68 of its first 75 games, only to wheeze to a 20-11 mark (playoffs included) for the rest of the way.

This is what Steph said on the final night of the 82-game portion in this Season of the Previously Unseen, after the Warriors made it to 73-9 while Kobe Bryant was capping his incomparable career with an unfathomable 60 points at age 37:

"It would suck," Steph said then, "not to finish the job."

Sure did.

The first failure in Finals history to turn a 3-1 series lead into a championship sucked the last bit of fun right out of what was widely considered the happiest team in professional sports.

"A lot of people wanted to see us lose," Green said Monday on the predictably solemn Day After, well aware that the Warriors, because of their cockiness, aren't exactly seen as universally cuddly.

"They got their wish. I don't know if you'll get it a lot more times, but they got it this time."