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Speaking after Golden State’s Monday morning shootaround in OKC, Steve Kerr disputed the report. “I don’t agree,” Kerr said. “(Thunder GM) Sam Presti’s a friend of mine. I know (Thunder owner) Clay Bennett. It’s a class organization all the way, so I don’t really pay any attention to a story like that unless there’s an actual name name that’s put on it. I assume it’s just sources. Is it ‘sources’? I don’t know who that is. It’s nobody with the Warriors. We have great respect for them. Sam’s been a friend of mine forever. They’re first-class, so I don’t know where that comes from.”
But once again, even without being on the court this time, Durant is at the center of this swirling NBA drama. “This league is a very interesting place all the way through,” Steph Curry said. “Certain stories that don’t need to see the light of day, don’t need to have any life breathed into them somehow are the most popular. That’s kind of how it goes. To me, it’s kind of comical what can be put in the spotlight during an 82-game year…I actually look forward to waking up and seeing what ridiculousness is posted.”
The pregame scene was just another in a weekend full of them showcasing the tension between Westbrook and Durant. At the Saturday “practice” — loose quotes at that — as the Western All-Stars were announced, they gathered at midcourt, each player running through the line dapping each other up. Durant was the second player out, behind Stephen Curry, and as Westbrook had his name called a few players after, Durant was sitting back on a table by himself as Westbrook ran out. The feeling in the practice locker room was described as “painfully quiet and uncomfortable.” In the subsequent mixed-zone media availability, Durant walked by Westbrook as the two appeared to strain so as not to make eye contact.
It was jarring to watch Westbrook and Durant actively avoid each other, because it was a far cry from the way it used to be at All-Star Weekend. They’ve spent five together as teammates — both for the Western Conference and the Thunder — and while the weekend’s proceedings kept them separate for large amounts as they tended to sponsorship appearances and charity events, when they had the opportunity to, they were together. Durant and Westbrook made it a point to ride the same bus to every event they were both going to, always sitting next to each other. They would go out of the way to make sure they rode together to Sunday’s big game, with Durant driving 25 minutes in Toronto traffic to meet up with Westbrook at the Jordan Brand hotel last year. That happened in New York the year before, and in Houston in 2013 (Westbrook missed 2014 due to injury), they met in the middle.
Some in Durant’s circle have tried to mediate, such as at Mahogany where someone went to Westbrook’s private room to let him know Durant was there. (They didn’t talk.) If the relationship is ever going to be restored, Durant is going to have to be the one to personally extend the olive branch, because he’s the one that broke it in the first place.
After weeks of speculation and a couple days of apparent tension before Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, all eyes were on what would happen when Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook shared the floor together. They answered that question quickly, as Durant fed Westbrook for a lob with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first quarter, just a minute after Westbrook checked into for the first time.
SiriusXM NBA Radio: AUDIO: @warriors forward @Money23Green on Durant-Westbrook: “I thought about trying to break the ice, but Hell No!”
Asked if he’ll use the opportunity to make amends with his ex-teammate, Durant said he doesn’t know. “It isn’t even something I’m thinking about, to be honest,” he said Friday on SportsCenter. “If it happens organically, it does, but I’m not planning to do anything. … If it happens, it does. If it doesn’t, it’s no big deal.” Instead, the former MVP’s priority is to enjoy the weekend’s festivities. “I’m going to handle All-Star weekend like I always do. Get in and get out. Do everything I’m supposed to do. Play the game and have some fun. I ain’t come here for it to be any drama or have a heart to heart with anybody,” he explained.
Green said: “I don’t necessarily want to mediate it. I just don’t want any awkwardness in the locker room. We’re here to have fun, we’re All-Stars, let’s have a great time. I’m not gonna mediate anything, but I would like to help get rid of the awkwardness.”
Erik Horne: NBA making this Durant-Westbrook line of sight thing pretty easy: pic.twitter.com/hlYDny40cJ
Marc J. Spears: On what he makes of the Russ-KD feud, ex-Thunder guard James Harden of the Rockets told SportsCenter: “I don’t understand what is going on. I don’t understand. Obviously, they feel some type of way. It’s part of the game. Part of a guy going to a new team.”
Marc J. Spears: Will you try to be a mediator between Russ and KD this weekend, ex-Thunder guard James Harden of the Rockets told SportsCenter: “I’m staying out of it. It’s not my place. I’m on a totally different team now. I know them both very well. If they need advice, I will give it to them. But I’m staying out of it.”
One last thing about their relationship, him and Russ. You told Adrian Wojnarowski that it’s sad for you to see that, you hate that it’s come to that. What do you think it’s gonna take for those guys to get back to what they had? Kendrick Perkins: I don’t think it’s a real beef there. I think it’s just more so maybe feathers being ruffled, just feelings being hurt. I don’t think either one of them got hard feelings. I done been around them for going on four, five years – numerous group messages to dinners to card games to whatever – and I know both of them really care about each other. And I think more so it’s the outside world that kind of blow it up and keep adding fuel to the fire. If you look back on it, either one of them never commented and said nothing negative about either one of them. I think in due time, they’ll mend. I was just talking to Russ, and Russ don’t have any hard feelings toward KD, and KD feel the same way. So I think in due time, they’ll get back on point where they’re talking again and get that relationship back.
Steve Kerr: “The only thing that you have to do as a coach in the All-Star Game is to parcel out the minutes. That’s it. You don’t draw up any plays. At least I don’t; I didn’t two years ago. So we’ve got to figure out the minutes, and I have thought about it and I’m not going to share it with you here today.”
Stephen Curry: “I feel like we’ll be mature enough to just enjoy being All-Stars and being in that locker room and what wearing the West All-Star jersey means and celebrating everybody’s accomplishments. Obviously there’s competition and there’s history and whatever you want to call it. But at the end of the day we’re all trying to push our games to the next level and continue to just raise the interest [in] the NBA as a whole and do special things. And I think we all fit into that category. [I] can’t speak for KD or Russ or whatever, but being at All-Star is a special thing and you want to respect that.”
The constant disconnect on the court with the Thunder, particularly on the offensive end, began to wear on Durant mentally as early as their second season together, league sources told ESPN. Throughout his OKC tenure, Durant asked for more ball movement. At times, it looked like the Thunder might have turned the corner, but it was never sustained. On sheer talent alone, Durant’s union with Westbrook instantly catapulted the Thunder to being one of the league’s best teams. But when going against a team with supreme talent and discipline, they were overmatched.
Durant desired continuity and teammates willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. After nine seasons with the franchise, he wasn’t convinced that would ever occur. Durant and Westbrook were never the best of friends. They were good teammates, similar to good neighbors. It seemed Westbrook wanted the numbers; Durant wanted the wins.
Saturday’s contest was one that lived up to the Westbrook-Durant billing. To everyone’s surprise, they had a few mano a mano situations. A team source said Warriors coach Steve Kerr was the one who came up with the idea of switching Durant onto Westbrook in the middle of the third. Kerr had never before assigned Durant to a point guard. One of the players told ESPN it was a tactic that worked.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Durant guarded Westbrook on a total of seven plays. Westbrook went 2-of-5 for eight points on those plays and committed one turnover.
The Warriors got Westbrook to go one-on-one instead of running the offense. Westbrook’s eight assists accounted for 19 points. But that was almost offset by his turnovers, which equated to 15 points for the Warriors, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
As the Thunder attempted to chip at the Warriors’ double-digit lead in the third quarter of the “Kevin Durant Return” game on Saturday night, former teammates Russell Westbrook and Durant exchanged words. A timeout was called and then the two had at it.
Kevin Durant to our own Mike Breen and Lisa Salters on the friendship between him and Russell Westbrook: “To be honest, I don’t think it’s that serious. Obviously, me and him have to figure it out. But it feels like everybody’s trying to get in the car with us and listen to our conversation when it has nothing to do with anybody else.”
Kevin Durant: “In a relationship where you spent so much time with somebody else, it doesn’t concern anyone else. At some point, we will figure it out. But it feels like I got to call everybody and say, ‘I might talk to Russell today.’ … I know you might handle it different with your friends, but this is our friendship, so we’ll handle it our way.”
With Kevin Durant set to return to Oklahoma City for the first time since joining the Golden State Warriors, Russell Westbrook talked as extensively as he has in months about his severed relationship with his former teammate. “Obviously, us playing here, we grew up here together,” Westbrook said before Saturday night’s game. “Since then, his decision has been made about what’s best for him and his future and I made the decision that was best for mine, and that’s just how it’s been.”
Durant and Westbrook have not spoken since Durant announced he was joining the Warriors last July 4. Asked how that could be with a player he often referred to as his “brother,” Westbrook said that’s just how it is. “Sometimes it happens like that,” Westbrook said. “There’s nothing I can say about it. Sometimes that’s how things go.”
Asked if not having a relationship anymore with Durant “hurts,” Westbrook shrugged it off. “Hurt? I mean, I’m fine. I’m fine. Honestly. Move forward,” he said. “Things happen in life, man, and as a man you’ve got to move forward. I have a great group of guys here that I love like my brothers. There’s been many-a-teammates I’ve had here before that left me, and they’re still my brothers. That I still talk to and I don’t talk to. Not just Kevin. There’s many guys that have come in and out of Oklahoma City that I’ve gained a relationship with that maybe you guys don’t know about, but I think obviously with me and Kevin it’s a little bigger stage. It happens.”
Look, Kevin Durant can say he holds no ill will all he wants for Oklahoma City. Bottom line, though, is the Warriors pretty clearly love sticking it to the Thunder, for some reason. Durant makes his return to Oklahoma City for the first time since abandoning them last summer, and the Warriors hyped the matchup on their Twitter account, showing Durant going up against his good friend and former teammate … Andre Roberson.
In a SportsCenter sit-down with ESPN’s Marc Stein, Durant also insisted that ?he is prepared for whatever reaction greets him at Chesapeake Energy Arena, saying: “I know what’s important [to Thunder fans] and their team is way more important than just one player. … I’m not going in there acting like I’m going to be praised, I know how it’s going to be.” “I know they’re going to be rowdy in there, man,” Durant told Stein. “I’ve been a part of some of the loudest nights in that arena. So I know it’s not going to be the friendliest welcome, but, like I said, I can’t wait to see the people that I really built relationships with over my time there and, you know, I’m sure fans that I got to know throughout my time playing there, even though they might not cheer for me out loud, I’ll give ’em a wink and they know what we had deep down inside.”
“I was doing an interview with someone and I used the word ‘unselfish’ to describe my teammates here [with] the Warriors and someone asked Russell the question, asked if he heard what I said about being unselfish and he phrased the question as if I was saying that the Thunder and the organization and the team was selfish. And once I heard that, I was like, ‘They are trying to get in between this thing and make it bigger than what it is.’ “Obviously Russell wasn’t going to hear that [full] interview I had about me just talking about my teammates I have now and someone in Oklahoma City phrased it to him as if I was calling them selfish. It’s that easy. It’s that easy for the media to twist something up and for the media, you know, [to] make a feud between us.”
Never mind that Westbrook would later make it clear that the two are still not on speaking terms, or that this was just the second time Durant had seen his old team since his surprising exit from Oklahoma City last July. This, Durant explained after his 40-point, 12-rebound, four-assist, three-block performance in the Warriors’ 121-100 win at Oracle Arena, was nothing more than your typical playground scene. “That’s all it was,” Durant told USA TODAY Sports. “You talk a little trash. (There’s) no tension. Nothing went on out there. Both teams played hard. He did what he’s supposed to do. I went out there and did what I was supposed to do. It’s nothing serious, man, nothing that we’re going to take off the court, you know what I’m saying? It ain’t gonna seep into the real world. It’s just basketball talk.”
“To be honest, I’m not even focusing on the negative outside noise or the controversy (with Westbrook), because it’s not real; it’s all on the computer,” he said. “If I start focusing on that, then I start believing what everybody is saying about this situation. It’s not even that bad. It’s really not serious, at the end of the day.”
“Maybe the first few weeks of the year, I was paying attention to all that type of stuff and hearing it everywhere, and people were telling me, ‘Don’t worry about this,’ and ‘Don’t worry about that.’ I had to tell people, ‘Man, stop talking to me about that. It’s distracting me, and it’s making me feel like everybody else’s thoughts are the same.’ “Those dudes over there (with the Thunder) probably don’t care about none of that stuff, and I know I don’t, when I really think about it, you know what I’m saying?”
“It’s nothing. There is nothing. Nothing to even to write about,” Durant said. “He’s on his team. I’m on my team. It is not a soap opera. It’s not VH1. It’s basketball. He’s doing his thing. I’m doing my thing. Ain’t nothing to it. We will [talk] when we will [talk]. There are plenty of times when I go months without talking to my friends. I’m out here grinding, doing my thing. He’s doing his. So, ain’t no hard feelings on my side. I don’t even think about it.”
Westbrook is one of the two frontrunners for the league’s MVP award, blitzing the stat sheet by turning the sublime into the routine, all while averaging an unconscionable triple-double. “The outside is taking it more serious than probably we are,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’m out there doing my thing. I don’t have time to focus on things that really don’t matter to me.”
Watching them on opposing sides might still appear to be weird, but not to them. “Not anymore,” Durant told The Vertical. “First game was. But now, it’s just competing. Going out there and playing as hard as I can and trying to help my team win. It’s simple.”
Apprised by a reporter that he was caught on camera in a brief verbal exchange with Durant, who scored a season-high 40 against his old team after pouring in 39 in their first meeting, Westbrook denied that it happened. “What exchange?” he said. “You may need to sit closer to the game because you didn’t see it clearly.”
Carl Steward: When asked if he and Durant are on speaking terms, Westbrook said “Nah.” Denied verbal exchange during the game, despite a camera shot of it
In advance of separate showdowns against both of his former teammates, Durant sat down with the Bay Area News Group to remember those early, formative years, when these three transformational talents were just young, hungry, naïve and together, unaware of everything to come. “It’s easy to say we were supposed to be together for the rest of our careers, but it didn’t play out like that,” Durant said. “I think all three of us will have memorable careers. And it’ll be a journey we’ll always remember, something that’s different and unique, playing with two different guys who are doing incredible things in the league right now. But when you look back, think about the fun times instead of what could’ve been.”
The trio combined to score 71 points in a Game 1 win over LeBron James’ Heat. They were three wins from an NBA title. Harden was 22, Durant and Westbrook were 23. The chatter was building: Would this brand new franchise, plopped in middle America, rule the NBA for the next decade? “No. We never looked at it that way, like we could be best of all-time,” Durant said. “It was really AAU basketball, man. We were just having fun. We weren’t listening to anyone on the outside, media, none of that. It was just pure fun. When we did hear something about the group, it was like, what is this? That was so foreign to us because we never paid attention to it.”
Discussing the game itself is as far as Durant is willing to go. As for an update on whether there has been any communication with Thunder guard Russell Westbrook since that early-season contest, Durant is not going down that road. “I talked about that already,” Durant adamantly said. “I’m not talking about that right now. Anything about the game, I’ll talk to you. All that other stuff, I don’t have anything to say.” The two still haven’t spoken.
The latest chapter in the What Russell Westbrook Thinks About Kevin Durant saga came, intentionally or not, on Sunday when Westbrook was recorded by his own team’s social media channel seemingly yelling “Thank you Kyrie”, a shout the internet immediately took to refer to Irving’s game-winner over the Warriors.
“What? F— do I look like, man? Why would I ever say that?” Westbrook said in pregame interviews, apparently unaware of the video until he was asked about it. “I would never say no other man’s name like that, for one. ‘Thank you Kyrie.’ What do I look like? I was talking to my trainer’s daughter. His daughter’s name is Jayme. ‘Thank you Jayme.’ I’m tired of – I ain’t about to keep going on that. I’m gonna keep my spirit up. I’m not about to even involve myself in no dumb stuff like that. Next question, man.” As he waited for another question, Westbrook muttered, “Dumb a– s—.”
“I can tell that he was waiting for a moment like this where he can just go shine. He wanted to be the leader of that team regardless if KD came back or not,” Anthony said about his Jordan Brand endorsement mate. “He wanted that moment. You could just tell his vibe was different, his energy was different. You could just tell when people want those moments.”
Royce Young: Enes Kanter, asked about Westbrook: “He’s the leader of the team this year. And last year.” Kanter walks off laughing, “I had to say it!”
Calvin Watkins: James Harden said he had no problem with Russell Westbrook wearing a photographer’s vest for last night’s game against the Warriors. He called it “swag.” pic.twitter.com/MyLeUb0bnp
Durant and Westbrook actually went to chapel at the same time before the game, but said they didn’t speak. “I don’t talk to anybody in chapel. I listen to the word and I get back to the locker room,” Westbrook said.
Durant has been politically correct when answering questions about Westbrook, the Thunder and Oklahoma City since arriving at the Warriors. But he revealed that his kindness hasn’t been rewarded. “One thing I was doing too much of was I was trying to be delicate with everyone’s feelings, especially the fan base in OKC, and my former teammates,” Durant told The Undefeated. “I had to realize that they don’t care. They’re going to dissect what they’re going to dissect. I was trying to be really considerate of their feelings and everything.”
So why haven’t Durant and Westbrook resolved their divorce? “It’s because of the outsiders,” Thabeet said. “Mostly, it’s the outsiders. It’s almost like everything Russell does is a shot at Kevin. It’s not even like that. Those guys actually have their lives. I talk to Russell. Russell’s my guy. He’s married. He’s happy. He’s living his life. “At the end of the day, these outsiders will fade. Somebody is going to win this year, and they are going to forget about this moment. It’s part of sports, I guess.”
With heavy anticipation centering on how Westbrook and Durant would greet each other before tipoff, the two didn’t even look at each other. Westbrook took his traditional spot underneath the opposing basket and spoke to no Warriors players. Durant didn’t shake hands or talk with any of his former teammates. “As soon as the game started, it brought back some memories,” Durant said. “But after that it was back to business.”
He arrived at the game wearing an orange vest that said “Official Photographer.” One of Durant’s primary off-court hobbies is photography. Asked about the connection before the game, Westbrook said, “Just cause I wanted to. There’s no particular reason. There’s no story behind it. It’s just because I wanted to wear it. “I don’t wear anything for nobody. I wear what I want to wear when I want to wear it.”
Kerr, speaking before the Warriors beat the Thunder 122-96 in Durant’s first game against his former team, said Durant’s portrayal in the media has often been unfair. “I feel bad for Kevin because even though he hasn’t said anything negative, it’s been portrayed that he said a lot of negative things about Oklahoma City, about Russ,” Kerr said of Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. “It’s not true. He has said some things that have been construed as negative.”
Kevin Durant loves photography. He photographed Super Bowl 50 for The Players’ Tribune in February. It’s pretty cool to see him taking up an art form like that. Russell Westbrook thinks so, too. Before the massive matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors on Thursday, Westbrook — always ahead of the game with his fashion choices — wore a photographer’s pennie while walking on the lower concourse to the locker room. Let’s hope this isn’t just flashy talk. In order to beat the Warriors the Thunder can’t just play ISO ball, and Westbrook will need to get a couple of stops in addition to playing raw on the offensive end of the floor.
Just as Durant was glued to the television to catch Westbrook’s highlights, the basketball world will be tuning in to watch how the two interact with each other on Thursday. Just don’t expect a friendly opening greeting upon taking the floor. “I don’t shake hands. That’s something I’ve never done before a game,” Durant said. “I just take the court to play. After the game, that’s different.”
The upcoming matchup carries heavy amounts of hype and anticipation, with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder meeting former teammate Kevin Durant for the first time since he joined the Warriors over the summer. Asked if there’s any extra level of excitement going into Thursday’s game, Westbrook said it’s just another game on the schedule. “I play every game like it’s my last,” Westbrook said. “I play every game the same, always. Like I’ve been saying for years. And regardless of who we play, I’m going to play the same way.”
Durant couldn’t hide his enthusiasm and excitement. Although he had just helped the Golden State Warriors secure a 122-114 victory over the Pelicans by registering 30 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals, his interest was centered on Westbrook. “The thing is, I’m not a hater,” Durant told ESPN on Wednesday. “Russ is a great basketball player. I love watching him play. I’m a fan of his game. I don’t wish bad things on people. That’s not what I’m about. I’ve always supported him and will continue to support him.”
Just as Durant was glued to the television to catch Westbrook’s highlights, the basketball world will be tuning in to watch how the two interact with each other on Thursday. Just don’t expect a friendly opening greeting upon taking the floor. “I don’t shake hands. That’s something I’ve never done before a game,” Durant said. “I just take the court to play. After the game, that’s different.”
“It just shows the way of the world right now. Like, a beef? Bro, I don’t beef with nobody. I’ve seen beefs go the wrong way. We’ve all seen it. The wrong way – real life wrong way, so you can’t say beef around me. I’m not into no basketball beef. Where me or Russ comes from (Seat Pleasant, Md. and Los Angeles, respectively), beef – you don’t just throw that word around like that. We have a miscommunication going on between a lot of people, a lot of assumptions – you can say that. But a beef? Nah, there ain’t no beef man. “I’m living my life. He’s living his. He’s doing his job. I’m doing mine. It’s unnecessary that you have a poll about what they’re going to say when they see each other. That’s what little kids do at the lunch table at elementary school. Like, c’mon man. Everybody’s going to say I’m ranting or I need to shut up, but you’re asking me these questions so obviously I’m going to answer them as well as I can … I ain’t got no beef with nobody.”
So I saw a tweet flying in this morning that jumped out at me, a poll where folks were trying to vote on how you and Russ would greet each other before the tip on Thursday. That kind of speaks to what the noise around you will be like, right? A: “That’s messy. That’s messy. That’s gossip. That’s like tabloids. Like, what are you doing? What are we talking about here? I’m glad you asked me about that, (because) like what are we doing? What do you want the fans to see, like obviously everybody would be happy if we come to halfcourt and then duke it out. Like, what are you doing bro? “That’s messy … We want to compete. That’s the only thing that should matter, man. We’re talking too much about what goes on in the stands, nothing about what goes on on the court. You’re not talking about nothing that goes on on the court here. What are we talking about here?
It was just a text though? A: “Yeah, I texted him, but we’ll figure that out as time goes on.” Q: Have you guys talked since? A: “No, we haven’t. You know, I’m not saying what I did was right, or I’m not saying that I was right about anything. I went about it how I thought I should have went about it. I like to sit on things and digest them and then I’ll figure out my next move, but I never said I was right for doing anything. We’ll figure that stuff out as men behind closed doors, and we’ll figure our whole relationship out behind closed doors. But yeah, it is what it is. We just try to move forward.”
Kevin Durant: “We were brothers. We are brothers. When you do a story for Rolling Stone, we talk and then he writes the story how he wants to write it. He came up with that term on his own. That got kind of miscommunicated through the entire thing. Me and Russell grew up together. I was in the phase of finding out who I was outside of basketball. He already knew who he was. He already had a stable life. He had stable parents, a girlfriend through college. I didn’t have none of that stuff. I’m trying to find out who I am, which I didn’t know, which is not a bad thing. He knew who he was. So obviously we’re going to grow toward this way (splits arms). It’s not a bad thing. It’s not at all. We still hung out. We’re boys. My interest went this way, his went that way. He got married, I didn’t. He hung with his wife. What you want me to do? I love Russ. I don’t care what nobody say. I don’t care what he say or what the fans say. Like, this is a tough time right now in our relationship. But I love Russ. I love his family. They all know that. I never did anything morally wrong. I never back-stabbed him in real life, never did anything behind his back, never told anyone anything about his character. Never did any of that. I just left teams. I just switched teams. Everyone on the outside is looking at it as, ‘Oh, you must not have liked him.’ Hell no. C’mon man. Nobody understand that part. I’m trying to find out who I am. He knew who he was. He knew what he wanted to do. He got married young. He met his girlfriend in college. I didn’t have none of that. I didn’t have two parents in a home with me. I’m still trying to search and find out who I am. We end up going this way (splits arms again) as far as off-the-court personality wise. And that’s not a bad thing.”
Q: Kendrick Perkins said something recently that on the court wise, he thought you guys didn’t value each other enough. Kevin Durant: “That’s bull****, too. I love Perk. I respect Perk. But that’s his opinion. He wasn’t there the last two years, or the last year-and-a-half. We valued each other. I went out of my way during games, ‘Throw it down there to Russ, get a basket!’ He went out of his way to toss it back to me for dunks. We valued each other. I chose a different path. I chose to go somewhere else and that has nothing to do with Russell or how we were on the court. Nah. I just chose to go a different way.”
“It just shows the way of the world right now. Like, a beef? Bro, I don’t beef with nobody. I’ve seen beefs go the wrong way. We’ve all seen it. The wrong way – real life wrong way, so you can’t say beef around me. I’m not into no basketball beef. Where me or Russ comes from (Seat Pleasant, Md. and Los Angeles, respectively), beef – you don’t just throw that word around like that. We have a miscommunication going on between a lot of people, a lot of assumptions – you can say that. But a beef? Nah, there ain’t no beef man. I’ve living my life. He’s living his. He’s doing his job. I’m doing mine. It’s unnecessary that you have a poll about what they’re going to say when they see each other. That’s what little kids do at the lunch table at elementary school. Like, c’mon man. Everybody’s going to say I’m ranting or I need to shut up, but you’re asking me these questions so obviously I’m going to answer them as well as I can … I ain’t got no beef with nobody.”
Q: So you’ve taken some heat for the fact that when you made your decision (in free agency) you didn’t call Russ and only texted him. Was that the case and what’s your view of the criticism on that front? Kevin Durant: “I mean we’ll talk about that. Me and him will talk about that. You’ve done heard just about everything about me and how I handle stuff, and I – we talked, but it might not have been the way that we should have (done) it. I’ll put it that way. I own up to that.” Q: It was just a text though? Kevin Durant: “Yeah, I texted him, but we’ll figure that out as time goes on.” Q: Have you guys talked since? Kevin Durant: “No, we haven’t. You know, I’m not saying what I did was right, or I’m not saying that I was right about anything. I went about it how I thought I should have went about it. I like to sit on things and digest them and then I’ll figure out my next move, but I never said I was right for doing anything. We’ll figure that stuff out as men behind closed doors, and we’ll figure our whole relationship out behind closed doors. But yeah, it is what it is. We just try to move forward.”
The two had bonded in Kalamian’s six seasons as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The two have stayed in touch in the year since Kalamian made the move to Toronto, and since Durant made his bold move to the Golden State Warriors this summer. The content of Durant’s text did surprise the coach that day, though. “Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team. “I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that. “Early on in OKC, we had that.”
Both players are among the NBA’s most talented, but that bond that Durant is after had been gone for some time. It disappeared at the start of the 2012-13 season when the Thunder traded James Harden to Houston. “We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said. “James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much. “Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”
“This is professional sports,” Westbrook sniffs. “You have to live with it. I just continued about my day.” As the afternoon wore on, and more dominoes were played, Beverly turned the topic to Oklahoma City and the franchise left behind. “I like my team,” Westbrook told him. “I still really like my team.” His tone took Beverly back a decade, to the blank navy thermal sweatshirts they wore in layup lines at Leuzinger High, as rivals from Westchester and Artesia rocked shiny jackets with shoe company logos. Westbrook, desperate for a college scholarship, could have mulled a transfer. “Oh no,” he says now, cutting off the question. “No, no, no. That school was where I’m from. It’s where my friends went. I was never going to leave. I was never going to be a follower.”
Not long after Durant’s decision Westbrook returned to Oklahoma City for his annual basketball camp, and general manager Sam Presti met him back at the dog-food gym. The Thunder were prepared to offer Westbrook a maximum contract extension, and if he turned it down, they’d have no choice but to consider those trade offers. “I don’t want you to do this because you feel you need to,” Presti said. “I want you to do it because you want to.” Westbrook could have told Presti that he’d talk about free agency next year, setting up the Summer of Russ, and all the ensuing attention. But Presti had a pretty good feeling that he wouldn’t. “One way or another he lets you know where you stand,” Adams says, “and he doesn’t do it with a whisper. He does it with a few more decibels than that.”
The goodbye text, which landed in Westbrook’s phone a couple of minutes after the first-person essay appeared online, mentioned a desire for a new journey. Kevin Durant was, of all things, a Warrior. “The team that just beat us,” Westbrook muttered over dominoes.
His guests had come to toast him—a son of South L.A. on a spread in Beverly Hills—but they did not know what to say, and neither did he. The first call came from Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver, who heard the disbelief in Westbrook’s voice. “You have to do your job,” Weaver said, “and trust us to do ours.” Then OKC power forward Nick Collison, who had been in the private room at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood a week earlier, when Westbrook asked Durant what he could do and how he could change. “He went above and beyond,” Collison says. Westbrook offered to fly to the Hamptons mansion where Durant was holding free-agent pitch meetings.
“I don’t know if Russ was hurt,” says center Steven Adams, “because he’d never tell me, and he’d definitely never tell you.” Adams recalls a litany of ordeals he has endured in recent years. “Russ is always the first person to help,” Adams adds. “But if you try to reciprocate, he’s the last person to accept help himself.” He bears every burden. He betrays no weakness.
Though he’s too shrewd to say it, that series of betrayals eventually broke his heart. “For nine years, he refused to speak a word against that team – he loved those guys and that city,” says his mom, Wanda Durant, who’s been his best friend and confidante since he started his b-ball journey at the age of eight. “But this summer he said, ‘Mama, I can’t do it anymore. They’re not in this thing with me, we’re not together like we were – I feel like I need something different.’ ”
“It’s an open secret that the fun had stopped there and it was never going to flow with Russell,” says a highly placed source in the league. “Russell’s a my-turn, your-turn kind of guy, and don’t think defenders don’t know that. When Russ had the ball, KD’s guy would leave him to go and help guard Russ.”
Meanwhile, Durant studied the body language of the players at his table. “They just liked each other so much and were so relaxed,” he says. “I thought, ‘These are some chill-ass dudes I wouldn’t mind hooping with.’ I wasn’t even asking, ‘How do we play together?’ I was asking, ‘Where do y’all go eat, do y’all hang out together?'” These were salient questions for Durant. As close as people presumed he and Westbrook had been, they were never much more than work friends, he says. “We had our own cliques that we hung with on the road. Russell had his guys, I had mine. It was never a bad thing. Just how it was.”
In the days that followed Durant’s departure, Westbrook was said to be angry and hurt, but he stayed largely quiet. Even now, months later, he’s careful with his words. He knows how things can sound, knows the value of striking a conciliatory tone. “I mean, obviously in the NBA there’s a lot of different decisions that people make,” he says. “The whole thing in the NBA is that people sometimes have an opportunity to go where they want. And Kevin chose a place where he wanted to go.” So, have they talked much since? “Uhh, not much, no.”
Speaking at training camp following OKC’s preseason loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday, a reporter asked Westbrook about these comments from Westbrook’s former teammate, Kevin Durant, earlier this week: “I wanted to see if what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen on the outside is really true. Do these guys really genuinely love each other? They work together. You hear family a lot. That’s just a word sometimes, but this is really a lifestyle here. You can feel it when you walk in the door, in the practice facility, everybody is just together. That’s something that I can appreciate as a basketball player and someone who values relationships. You can tell that that’s what they stand on, that’s what we stand on.”
That remark was concerning Durant’s new team, the Golden State Warriors. Asked what he thought about them, Westbrook gave a brilliantly devious response: “That’s cute. My job is to worry about what’s going on here, we’re going to worry about about all the selfish guys we’ve got over here, apparently.”
For all the reasons that have been explored and examined about Durant’s decision to bolt Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency – especially the scrutiny upon the Russell Westbrook-Durant dynamic – this can’t be lost in it all: Durant’s ultimate disconnect with Oklahoma City far transcended his co-star and extended deeper into the Thunder franchise. This is no one’s fault; teams and organizations have to be themselves, operate within what works for them, and then free agency allows players to make the choice.
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March 26, 2017 | 9:28 pm EDT Update
The team has lost three games in a row, six of their last seven and appeared lifeless, again, Friday in a 115-87 blowout loss to the Orlando Magic. Van Gundy chose not to address his team after. “I mean, his message is to win,” Pistons forward Tobias Harris said. “So, to be honest, if that’s not getting through — that’s an issue. Coach wants to win. We all to want to win. But if that message isn’t getting through, especially with the position we’re at right now and what’s at stake, I mean, it’s disappointing.”
Asked Wednesday after a blowout loss at Chicago, Van Gundy said he was unsure whether players had stopped listening to him. Then Friday, when asked if his players had given up, he replied: “I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.”
“Everybody’s really, really frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “We’re struggling with the mental part of it right now. We’re just trying to free up their minds a little bit, and get them to playing basketball, and enjoy playing basketball again.”
“The energy has been zapped. … The frustration of not playing well – of the ball not going in the basket, of taking some losses and things like that – can get you to lose your energy. Lose your intensity. Lose your fight a little bit, and that’s what we’ve been going through.”