Durant wanted an offense that kept the ball moving and provided him easier scoring chances. The Thunder fired coach Scott Brooks and brought in Billy Donovan, and still the offense stalled out at key moments, often with Westbrook dribbling into oblivion. The Thunder led the NBA in blown fourth-quarter leads last season, according to Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK.com, despite their firepower. “Ultimately, he got frustrated and felt that they had plateaued,” said a person with insight into Durant’s thought process. “[Donovan] came in, and he still had the same issues that he had with Russ under Scotty. The offense didn’t change much. He still had to take a ton of contested shots every game; and that’s when he had the ball at all.”
With Westbrook set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2017, the long-term prospects for continuity did not appear great. “He’s gone after this year,” said one league executive. “A hundred percent. I think that’s the case no matter what (Durant had decided). I guess people can always change their mind, but I think this season was going to be it for him there no matter what.”
The club might also have had the idea that concerns in that area were a big part of why Durant was seriously thinking about leaving the Thunder in the first place. One person close to Durant and Russell Westbrook said their relationship is “kind of complicated.” Said another Western source, “Look, KD and Russ are friends. They get along great off the court. They’re good guys. But Kevin feels like no one can control Russell when he’s on the court — not even Russell. Everyone sees it. It’s no secret. I think that’s been hard on Kevin. Russ is one of the top players in the game, but things have to fit.”
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook arguing on the sidelines is the type of thing that will be nothing if the Thunder pull out the game, and something if they do not. Leading San Antonio 85-76 midway through the fourth quarter, OKC gave up two quick three-pointers to Danny Green, and the lead evaporated to three points. The Thunder called timeout, and the scene above happened.
“Hold up,” Durant said, placing his hand in front of Westbrook's mic. “(Cuban)'s a idiot. He's a idiot.” At Wednesday's practice, Westbrook was asked what it meant to him that Durant stuck up for him like that. “It's very important,” Westbrook said. “Me and Kevin's relationship is great. He's like my brother. We talk about different stuff, not just basketball related. He's always gonna have my back and I'll always have his.”
Any noise about personal issues between Durant and Westbrook is bunk, according to sources close to the situation. They get along great, though there has been minor tension about touches as Westbrook's role has ascended, those sources say. Durant can go to any team he wants; all 30 teams will move the earth to sign him.
But Durant's selection as Westbrook as his presenter highlighted an eight-year friendship between the two that sprouted through basketball but has extended so far beyond it. “We're like family,” Durant said in an interview with The Oklahoman earlier this week, detailing the evolution of his relationship with Westbrook.
It can be overwhelming. Not many can relate. But for Durant, Westbrook was one of the few that could. Durant said he'd call Westbrook or Kendrick Perkins — a trio that is still in an active three-way group text to this day — and just vent. “I was vulnerable to him,” Durant said. “It was like, yeah, this is someone I can lean on. It showed me a different side of him. Since then, we've been really tight.”
“We don't like each other because he shot more?” Durant asked. “That don't make no sense. And it's really disrespectful to me or to us because you think I'm that selfish of a person? I don't like this guy because he shoots more than me? That's disrespectful to me. Because if I'm a friend, I'm genuine. I'm there. No matter what. Good days, bad days, more shots. I'm a real friend.”
January 25, 2021 | 6:01 pm EST Update
Noah Levick: Joel Embiid, just off Doc Rivers’ Zoom camera, on his pick-and-roll defense: “I’ve been doing an OK job. I can always get better.” Rivers said Embiid’s been “great, actually” in playing higher up this year. He thinks many NBA guards have figured out how to beat drop coverage.
Chase Hughes: The Wizards-Rockets injury report for tomorrow’s game is out. Russell Westbrook and John Wall are both good to go. Christian Wood, who has having a big year, is doubtful with a right ankle sprain. Raul Neto is questionable with his groin tightness.
Start-up financial tech company Goalsetter has raised $3.9 million in a seed round that includes top National Basketball Association stars and the billionaire chairman of investment firm Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith. The company said the funds would be used to expand its mobile application platform and accelerate subscriber growth. The Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul are investors. Joining them is former NBA player Baron Davis, ex-New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
January 25, 2021 | 5:55 pm EST Update
Marc Stein: The NBA will institute All~Star voting this season with or without a game, sources say Proposals for staging an actual All-Star game include holding it on an HBCU campus in the Atlanta area in the March 6-7 range