Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook still haven’t spoken — but they might be teammates again soon
Durant’s second reunion with OKC was less tense, but things with Westbrook remain icy
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will likely become teammates again very soon.
Don’t get nervous, Golden State Warriors fans. Don’t get excited, Oklahoma City Thunder fans. There will be no change of heart by Durant, no stunning trade. The former dynamic duo, who have yet to really talk since Durant’s offseason departure, will likely be named 2017 NBA Western Conference All-Star starters on Thursday.
“I don’t have any thoughts about it. I am just going to go out there and play,” Durant told The Undefeated after a 121-100 win over the Thunder on Wednesday night.
It’s been a bad and awkward breakup between the two since Durant made early-morning fireworks last Fourth of July with his decision to sign with the Western Conference rival Warriors. But if Durant had any second thoughts about leaving the Thunder, Westbrook’s ways have likely killed that vibe.
Westbrook has refused to talk to the media about Durant since the big decision. On Nov. 3, 2016, Westbrook walked into Oracle Arena wearing a yellow photographer jersey when he faced Durant for the first time in an apparent effort to mock his former teammate, who was credentialed as a photographer during the 2016 Super Bowl. And after Durant dropped a season-high 40 points against the visiting Thunder on Wednesday night, Westbrook still seemed perturbed as he only said, “nah,” when asked if he was on speaking terms with his old teammate.
The duo’s former relationship will be the elephant in the room during 2017 NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans. But Durant wouldn’t buy into the well-documented soap opera and expressed optimism about reconciliation at some point.
“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.”
By the looks of Durant’s play against the Thunder in two games, he definitely isn’t dwelling on his departure from Oklahoma on the floor.
Durant drilled Oklahoma City for 39 points in the first meeting between the two teams. He then dropped a season-high 40 points after missing just three out of 16 field goal attempts while nailing five 3-pointers and sinking nine free throws in 34 minutes Wednesday night. Durant joined New Jersey Nets guard John Williamson (38 and 50 points vs. the Indiana Pacers in 1978) and Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley (36 and 35 points vs. the Philadelphia 76ers in 1993) as the only players in NBA history to score at least 35 points in each of his first two games against his former team, according to Elias Sports.
“Every player in the NBA wants to play well against their former team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “For most guys, you feel that extra juice when you play against a team you used to play on. I think it’s even more so with KD because of his history with that franchise. I think he was there for nine years.
“He’s got a lot of friends over there, and for sure he’s motivated, and it’s a big deal. He’s in the spotlight and everybody is going to ask him about it and talk about it, so he wants to play well against them for sure.” With the exception of Westbrook, Durant seemed more comfortable around his old team this time.
The first reunion was the fifth game of the season and too early for Durant to break bread or give a fist pump to his old teammates. The only guy Durant got some love from after that 122-96 blowout win last November was Thunder assistant coach and ex-teammate Royal Ivey, as the rest of his old teammates darted to the visiting locker room. But after his late pregame workout Wednesday night, the 6-foot-9, 240-pounder signed autographs before running to the Thunder bench, where he had a quick exchange with former teammate Nick Collison and spoke with assistant coach Mark Bryant, television broadcaster Brian Davis, television analyst Michael Cage and others.
“I was reading too much into what everyone else was feeling about my situation and thinking those guys had the same feelings and thoughts,” Durant said. “So this time, I didn’t worry about that. I said hello to people. This basketball stuff doesn’t get between relationships we had.
“I had to separate the two and it’s easier. It’s easier to do that when time goes on.”
Even with about six months having passed since his departure, it won’t be easy for Durant when he returns to Oklahoma City to play for the first time on Feb. 11.
Durant is the all-time leading scorer in Oklahoma City’s history. He led the Thunder to their lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012. He may have made his biggest impact in the Oklahoma City community, where he regularly gave back with his time and money.
All those big scoring games, accolades and community involvement will likely be forgotten upon Durant’s return, as the fans are expected to take the Westbrook approach.
“Ninety-five percent boos are coming his way,” said Thunder fan Rich Taylor, who left his Durant jersey on the doorstep of his downtown Oklahoma City home after Durant chose the Warriors. “And that other 5 percent won’t be very loud or old people. I have the first seat by the scorer’s table on the Warriors side, second row. Close enough to boo real loud.”
While it’s hard to see now, there may be a time down the road after Durant makes the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame that the Thunder franchise will retire his No. 35 jersey and place it in the rafters in Chesapeake Energy Arena. Durant looks forward to that day, too. But come Feb. 11, the former longtime face of the Thunder is bracing himself for the worst.
“I don’t expect any warm welcomes,” Durant said. “I just go out there and play another road game. I’ve played against these guys twice. Seeing that jersey won’t feel as weird as the first time. I’ll be going back to a place I’ve called home for eight years. We will see how I feel, but I really can’t say how.
“I’m sure they won’t [cheer] right now because it’s still fresh and new. But at some point, maybe when my career is over and with the impact I had with that community, team and organization, I’m sure people will look back on it when the dust settles and look at me as a pioneer for Oklahoma City basketball.”
Although there has been temptation for Durant to speak out on the hate in Oklahoma, he has done a fantastic job of turning the other cheek and moving forward.
Life in the Bay Area has helped make that easy to do. Not only is he playing for the NBA team with the best record, he’s enjoyed San Francisco’s fine dining and nightlife, danced in the mosh pit at Kanye West’s concert in Oakland, California, broken ground on the Warriors’ new San Francisco arena and awakened to the beautiful sight of the San Francisco Bay Area from high above in his East Bay Hills home. In other words, the newcomer now feels like he belongs in the Bay Area.
“I’m getting there. Basketball is the easy part,” Durant said. “I’m not saying that what we are doing is easy. I can adjust pretty quickly. I’ve done that my whole life, which is getting up, moving and switching locations. I’m still trying to figure out where I live and stuff like that …
“It’s more comfortable now. I feel like I belong here. I’ve been here long enough now.”