Westbrook is taking time not just to figure out his next steps, but also to lick his own wounds. Reports have come out suggesting Westbrook’s style of play influenced Durant to leave, though Durant publicly denied that in Las Vegas recently. The two have not spoken since Durant’s decision. Those close to Westbrook say he’s both angry and hurt not only by Durant’s decision to leave but also because Durant didn’t even call to tell him personally. Westbrook wasn’t prepared to be in this position — three weeks ago, like everyone else, he thought Durant was coming back. And he had to learn the hard way he wasn’t.
"I just told him, I let him know how I felt." Durant said in an interview with Sina. "And you obviously, our relationship probably won't ever be the same again, but it's something I wanted to do and I expressed that to him. Hopefully, he respected it."
Diamond Leung: KD on Westbrook: "Obv our relationship probably won't ever be the same again, but it's something I wanted to do." sports.sina.com.cn/basketball/nba…
Durant and his new Golden State Warriors teammate were close, and Green was actively recruiting him for months. On Adrian Wojnarowski’s “The Vertical Pod,” Woj discussed Durant’s exit with Jeff Van Gundy. In an expansive conversation, Wojnarowski dropped this bomb: “I know Russell (Westbrook) was bothered by — and some other teammates were too — of, like, there was some knowledge there that Draymond (Green) was in contact with Kevin (Durant) all season long and they’re in a playoff series and I know there was some conversation around the Thunder team of ‘Hey man, this guy kicked Steven Adams in the nuts twice in this series and what are you doing hanging out with this guy? What’s the relationship? We’re trying to beat these guys.’”
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 27, 2021 | 8:36 pm EST Update
“I see why there’s a comparison. Obviously, LeBron is one of the greatest to ever do it and Ben has the potential given the size, ability, and speed, but it’s unfair. It’s unfair to compare anybody to LeBron or compare anybody to Michael Jordan, especially at a young age.”
Attempts to grow closer as a team are confronting a world in which proximity to teammates is both dangerous and prohibited. As a result, NBA players and staffs have been reduced to distant conversations through face masks, and a road life dominated by individual screens rather than collective camaraderie. “The reality is that you can’t do stuff like that anymore,” Haslem said. “Those opportunities don’t exist.” In Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner’s words: “It’s a bubble within a bubble.”
STARTING AN AVERAGE day on the road, an NBA player must now wake up as early as 7:30 a.m. to be tested before a practice or shootaround, depending on the market. He then returns to his room to catch another hour or so of sleep, or to busy himself with a video game, an episode of a series or maybe a FaceTime session with family back home. A couple of hours later, he reports downstairs to board the team bus. The wait in the lobby is traditionally a time when players schmooze and hang out, but with everyone at least 6 feet apart and masked, the vibe has taken on an edgy quality.
Pre-practice strategy sessions at the hotel can no longer last more than 10 minutes. Shootaround or practice offer some normalcy, but breakfast back at the hotel in a ballroom, typically a communal ritual where players and staff yuck it up at tables for eight, now operates as a grab-and-go. Want some fresh air? Forget about taking a walk outside, even though the CDC and other leading medical institutions regard outdoor activities with the appropriate precautions as low risk.
Back in the hotel room, the walls close in for players. More video games and binge watching. Myles Turner has delved into Narcos and has been playing Cyberpunk 2077, while Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph recently watched the Tony Parker documentary on Netflix. “I don’t think locking up in a room for 24 hours just coming out to play basketball is mentally healthy,” Haslem said. “I need to go out and take a walk because there are things that can pile up that have nothing to do with the game of basketball. And you’re saying that I can’t even go take a walk? I don’t think that’s right. Even in the bubble, you can go take a walk and get some fresh air.”
This season, that ground rarely extends much past the door to a hotel room. The Spurs’ custom on the plane has been effectively prohibited. Under the new guidelines, players must sit next to the same guys they sit next to on the bench during games. On an off night, it’s dinners for one in the room — a far cry from the jovial dining out experience in a road city. “I think that’s hard — having options taken away,” Holiday said. “You might go to your favorite city, and have a favorite food spot that people might not know about. And that’s something that you can bring to the table, something you share, and [this season] you can’t really share that.”