Wednesday, rumors flew around Twitter about the Kevin Durant free agency saga once again. This time, reports claimed that Durant told former teammate Russell Westbrook that he would return to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 2016-2017 season.
Of course, this made waves in the media because Durant shocked the world when he announced he was signing with the 73 win Golden State Warriors. KD had already been taking a huge beating for his decision from the media and some (Thunder) fans, so going behind Westbrook’s back in free agency would have made Durant even more of a villain next year. However, since the rumored news leak sources like Bleacher Report have noted that ESPN recanted the story. Apparently, there is no confirmation Durant actually promised Westbrook he would return. What hasn’t been recanted on the other hand was Durant’s unwillingness to call Westbrook during his decision making process. Some may believe this proves Westbrook and Durant weren’t as close as they appeared to be during the heights of OKC’s success, or when defending each other during post-game media conferences, but frankly it may have nothing to do with their relationship at all. Durant strikes me as a guy that really just wants to win and wants to have the best chance of doing so. Now the Thunder were one win away from the trip to the Finals last year so in no way was he on a bad basketball team, but the Warriors’ culture and style of play appeals to him so purely that no other team really had a chance. It was the Warriors all along for the former MVP and considering he probably knew what decision he wanted to make, conferring with Westbrook would have made what seems to be just a basketball decision that much harder.
Of course, if you are Westbrook and your best friend on the court, a partner you’ve been side-by-side with your entire career walks away without a phone call you’ve got to be hurt. But does that mean there is bad blood between the two now? No doubt there will be bad blood with the fans when Durant returns to Oklahoma City as a Warrior, but how he is greeted by the Thunder and Westbrook in particular, will say a lot about how close the two stars truly are. If Durant and Westbrook genuinely embrace each other I think that will quell the notion that the two no longer consider each other brothers and instead highlight the fact that catalyst for this seemingly unprecedented move, was preference. Westbrook is an undeniable all-star and a top-five talent in the NBA, however, Durant is attracted to a different style of play, a style the Warriors organization as a whole can provide him. After watching Durant’s reception at Oracle arena during the USA men’s basketball exhibition against China and seeing new teammates Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala show up to support him as well as Draymond Green introduce him, there was a very evident sense of mutual adoration between Durant and his new home. There is already a seamlessness to the chemistry between Durant and other Warriors on and off the court, something you can’t blame him for enjoying that also doesn’t prove he had any personal problems with Westbrook.
Whether or not Durant hinted at returning or completely shut Westbrook out during free agency makes no difference now. Durant will be suiting up with Golden State and his decision to do so seems to be game-motivated. What will be interesting is to see how Westbrook responds and interacts with Durant during next season.