When the NBA playoffs began and the Golden State Warriors needed six games to overcome the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and then were tied 2-2 with the Houston Rockets in the second round – the question was what they will do if Kevin Durant leaves the franchise when he enters free agency later in July but the recent praise for the team now raises questions if they really do need him to challenge for the title.

The small forward was shouldering most of the scoring burden as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggled offensively and the nightmare of a potential injury to Durant became real when he limped off in Game 5 with a calf strain. The Warriors were immediately removed as the favorites to win the 2019 NBA title and questions were raised if they could overcome the Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals.

It has now been four and a half games since Durant suffered his injury, the Warriors beat the Rockets 4-2 and are now leading the Portland Trail Blazers 3-0 in the Western Conference finals. The “Splash Brothers” are firing again and Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala have found their best form and the question has now turned to – do the Warriors really need Durant in order to win another championship?

The Warriors players, Thompson, Green, Curry and even coach Steve Kerr are adamant that they absolutely need Durant back if they are to complete the 3-peat. The small forward won the NBA Finals MVP in 2017 and 2018 and is a player who can singlehandedly change the outcome of a game.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Team LeBron warms up before the NBA All-Star game as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, Feb. 17, 2019. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Curry has spoken about how the team needs to have Durant’s back after he shouldered most of the burden during the early stages of the playoffs, while Kerr has labeled the small forward the best player on the planet at the moment. It could all be a charm offensive to ensure Durant feels wanted and decides to commit his long-term future to the team.

But could it all have a reverse effect on the player, who is now watching from the outside as Curry takes over as the leader of the team to show how they did it before Durant arrived in the Bay Area. Durant has always received criticism for leaving Oklahoma City Thunder and join a winning team with few even claiming that his two titles have an asterisk next to it owing to his successes on a team that was already a championship franchise.

And if the Warriors go on to win the NBA championship in 2019 without Durant, who is still to recover from the injury, it could make it clear to him that it is time for him to move on. Despite Durant being rated as the best in the NBA at the moment, the Warriors fans will still see Curry as their main star as he has come through the ranks having been drafted in 2009.

Almost every NBA expert feels that Durant should leave the Warriors this summer whatever the outcome in the playoffs and join a team where he will be the de-facto leader. The New York Knicks are expected to be his next destination with many claiming that a deal has already been agreed.