So much for the relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook being peachy keen.
They themselves have denied it, and it has become common practice to vilify those who think a rift between the two existed. But the separation between them, as a source told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, was apparently very real:
Their partnership produced four conference finals appearances, and one trip to the NBA Finals, in the last six years. It also produced a simmering frustration that, in essence, paved the way for his exit.
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.”
All of this is fair and easy to believe. But it’s unlikely that Westbrook and Westbrook alone was the driving force behind Durant’s departure. As ESPN.com’s Royce Young wrote, Westbrook was among the members of the Oklahoma City Thunder trying to get Durant to stay. While the two stars might have clashed, perhaps even resenting each other, they weren’t warring enemies.
To some extent, over these last eight years, Durant and Westbrook knew they needed each other to win—or to have a chance at winning. There were no other options for them. That helped them coexist, though it may have also contributed to any resentment Durant may or not feel.
Durant, as a free agent, amid an unprecedented salary-cap boon, being recruited by the best-ever Golden State Warriors, just didn’t need Westbrook anymore to win. He found a better situation—an upgrade.
There’s no doubt Durant was frustrated with Westbrook. But his decision to leave was likely more about the Warriors than it was Westbrook or Oklahoma City at all.