We are just a month away from the highly anticipated clash between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant when the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors play their first game since the Western Conference Finals (and subsequent departure of Durant to join those same Warriors). Durant’s decision to ally himself with the team that beat him sent shock waves throughout the NBA and the subsequent rift between the former teammates is well documented.
Kendrick Perkins recently sat down with Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski to discuss his 13 year NBA career and you can listen to the entire interview here:
My interest centers on Perk’s comments about his time in Oklahoma City and his thoughts on Durant and Westbrook’s past and present relationship:
Anyone that has followed the Oklahoma City organization closely knows there is something unique and special about it. Incoming players have talked repeatedly about the player-first environment, but this is the first time we are hearing those sentiments echoed by a player after he left.
Rather than follow Woj’s line of questioning I am going to discuss Perk’s thoughts in a more chronological order. Nothing of what Perk said has been deleted, but rather a rearrangement in the order he spoke:
The key point in this segment is Perkins understanding that many of Durant and Westbrook’s initial issues were directly related to their youth and immaturity. Still, I questioned his comment that neither valued the other as much as they should and was not surprised when Perk altered the comment somewhat:
It was repeatedly rumored in the past that Westbrook struggled deferring to Durant’s talent. Personally, I never bought into that narrative for one simple reason: Khelsey Barrs, Westbrook’s childhood friend who died tragically from an enlarged heart in 2004.
Russell has never minced words about how good Khelsey was and that he would be a top player in the league today if not for his untimely passing. As is the case with any young player, Westbrook made mistakes along the way, but after growing up with a player of Barr’s caliber, I never got the impression he was competing against Durant. On the other hand, Durant WAS Khelsey Barrs growing up, and his status as the undisputed star was never challenged until Russell came along. Perk seems to be pointing out, tactfully of course, that it was something Durant struggled with.
I wish Woj had dug a little deeper at that point. How did Russell react to Durant’s taking issue with Westbrook’s rising success? Was Westbrook’s reaction the reason Perk first stated that neither fully valued the other? I would have also asked Perk if their relationship had negatively affected their play on the court.
Again, I wish Woj had dug a bit deeper here because in April, Perkins said that if the Thunder didn’t win a title “it might be time for a change.” Why the change of heart? I think I would have also been curious to find out if Perk was concerned that Celtic fans might be upset that he didn’t put Boston at the top of Durant’s list of possible options.
I have wondered many times since Woj broke the initial story that the Warriors had been actively recruiting Durant throughout the season, and that his teammates knew Durant was engaged in open dialogue with Draymond Green during the Western Conference Finals, how Perk would have reacted had he been in the Thunder locker room.
How would the former self-proclaimed Thunder “silverback” that once ran Joakim Noah out of the post game locker room after a mid season win respond to the team’s #1 player fraternizing with the enemy with an NBA Final appearance on the line?
Without being asked, Perk tells us in this segment why he had changed the “championship or bust” mantra that he espoused in April. In Perk’s opinion, the Thunder not only had a team that should have closed out the Warriors, but one that should have won it all. Perk agrees with Andre Iguodala who said the Thunder were the best team in the playoffs.
Perk wasn’t alone. The Thunder organization felt the same way as did Durant’s teammates. The dinner that Durant had with Westbrook and Collison in Los Angeles just prior to his departure for the Hampton’s was merely a confirmation he felt the same way and why they felt no need to go to New York and hold Durant’s hand. As far as they were concerned, the matter was settled.
Which brings us to the present and a summer in which Durant and Westbrook have not spoken to one another. Evidently Perk is upset by this and wants to step in and help mend some fences.
I can understand Perkins’ feelings as a mentor and friend but at this point, my advice to Perk would be to not get into any rush setting up that reunion. Along with their past, in the aftermath of Durant’s decision various rumors about Westbrook surfaced that Perkins didn’t mention, and that Durant was too slow to refute for one “Kum Ba Yah” session to overcome. If there is any chance for mending any fences between these two, it probably won’t start until November 3rd and it probably won’t be pretty to watch.