On July 4th, for many Oklahoma City fans, learning franchise cornerstone Kevin Durant would not return was more emotionally draining than suffering defeat in the 2012 NBA Finals. His calculated decision blindsided adoring fans, devoted teammates, and the entire NBA; but the omni-present Adrian Wojnarowski of “The Vertical” gave us a hint that something was amiss when he tweeted this on July 2nd:
Sources: Kevin Durant had been recruiting Horford to OKC, but Horford eliminated OKC with no assurance Durant/Westbrook staying long-term.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 2, 2016
At the time, most assumed the wavering element against any long-term commitment to OKC was Russell Westbrook, a logical assumption. Westbrook never before made any claims regarding his long-term plans, or wishes, and his passion and commitment to his fashion line is well documented. A move to one coast or the other once his commitment to the Thunder was done made perfect sense.
In retrospect, the events that ensued shortly after Woj’s tweet, namely Durant leaving the Thunder on July 4 and Westbrook signing an extension one month to the day later, belie not only the initial assumption of which of the Thunder’s dynamic duo were unwilling to commit long-term to Al Horford, but also cast doubt on Durant’s most recent spin explaining why he deserted his former team.
If you recall, first reports about the reasons behind Durant’s decision focused on Westbrook a day after the fact:
"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.....
He's never going to have a game in Golden State where Steve Kerr has to say at halftime, 'You guys need to get Kevin the ball,' which happened in OKC," the same person said.
A “person with insight into Durant’s thought process” said?
That report on July 5th exploded like a brush fire throughout the sports world. Durant held his first official press conference as a Warrior on July 7th, once the Westbrook rumor had reached its peak, but did not mention the report. Then, on July 19th, after the July 5th Westbrook rumor was basically debunked, Durant stepped forward and denied its validity:
“Nah, it wasn't (a factor in him leaving),” Durant said. “I mean obviously (that alleged subplot is) coming out now (that) I'm gone, all these reports are going to come out. I can't really control it, but I just made a decision based on where I wanted to go, man. It was as simple as that. We can think about all the reasons and the factors and what factored in, but it was simple. That's where I wanted to play basketball.”
While it is partially true that Durant can’t control what rumors may come out about his decision, the when to deny said rumors conceit is completely within his control. The July 7th press conference would have been the ideal time to nix a rumor that was roasting not just a former teammate, but a supposed friend he had gone to battle with for 8 years.
Of course Durant didn’t take the same cavalier approach to a report from ESPN’s Royce Young that accused Durant of telling Westbrook and Nick Collison he was definitely returning to the Thunder just days before signing with the Warriors. Oh no, Durant quickly and thoroughly squelched that rumor within 48 hours.
Apparently refuting false rumors about what Durant said or did not say move to the top of the to-do list when they are attacking his already self-destructed image.
In complete contrast to the pain felt in Oklahoma City on July 4th was the overwhelming jubilation the city experienced a month later when Durant’s former teammate and “friend” signed an extension with the Thunder. To honor the event, Mayor Mick Cornett officially proclaimed the day as “Russell Westbrook Day”.
A city whose faith had been deeply shaken by Durant’s departure the month before erupted in celebration. Even Sam Presti, the man who always appeared composed and in control, was affected:
And the reaction from the man that waited 2 weeks to put down a bogus Westbrook rumor and said he made his decision solely on where he wanted to play basketball?
In Rio, Kevin Durant was asked if he would reach out to Russell Westbrook after his contract extension with Thunder pic.twitter.com/Yiurrl0bl3— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) August 4, 2016
“Durant always appeared to be the perfect fit with Oklahoma City, with his humble nature and down-home demeanor. But he also was drawn to a bigger city, not necessarily for the brighter lights, but for the ability to blend. In Oklahoma City, Durant carried a larger-than-life burden everywhere he went. He’d privately lamented to friends an inability to be in public.”
Here we go again, another third party reference? Now, instead of Westbrook being the reason for his departure, we find out Durant left because Oklahoma City loved him too much and wouldn’t give him his space to enjoy life? Poor kid....PLEASE!
(insert rolling-eye emoji here... hey Super-star, now that you’ve opted for the land of cucumber sandwiches, you want privacy? Quit your current day job and join with the masses... all you had to do here was ask for it and you would have had a million snarling rednecks ready, willing, and able to guarantee you could walk down the middle of Main St. singing “I Believe I can Fly,” without the worry of so much as a second glance.)
What a load of tripe. If Kevin Durant, at 6’10” tall and the biggest free agent signing since Lebron went to South Beach, thinks he is going to simply slip into obscurity in a metropolitan area with over 3 times the population of Oklahoma City, he is deluding himself.
The Warriors are the hottest ticket in the Bay area! There aren’t any more professional sports options there than there were in Boston back in Larry Bird’s Celtic days and Bird couldn’t even mow his grass without attracting a media horde..... and we know how much Durant loves a media horde.
So let’s take a moment to review: First we find out, through a friend with “insight” into Durant’s mindset, that Westbrook was the reason Durant flipped sides. Then through a third party report we learn that Oklahoma City adored Durant too much and that explains the departure, and then through yet another source we find out that a simple “congratulations” text when a “friend” reaches the pinnacle of their career is a “touchy deal.” Touchy for who wasn’t touched upon.
I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form.
Hold up...let me get this straight. The Warriors offer a selfless environment in contrast to the Thunder environment being..... selfish? Who is to blame for that? The Thunder was Durant’s team, the environment centered around Durant, he WAS the environment.
Like Russell said...cute...and Durant’s response when he was informed that his comment had not gone over well?
"That book is closed. I'm looking forward now," Durant said. "All I'm focused on is how we prepare here and how we have fun here every day. It's not a knock on Oklahoma City. It's not a knock on my past teammates. I'm looking forward. I'm not looking backward."
THANK YOU!!! Russell said he was tired of talking about it and Durant said he is no longer looking backward, so we can finally move past this whole soap opera and look forward to the season... right? .... Wrong! (insert frowning emoji).
In an article in Rolling Stone magazine on Oct. 19th, Wanda Durant, Durant’s mother, was quoted, saying:
"For nine years, he refused to speak a word against that team – he loved those guys and that city, but this summer he said, 'Mama, I can't do it anymore. They're not in this thing with me, we're not together like we were – I feel like I need something different.' "
His Mama said? OMG!!! HERE WE GO AGAIN!!! Another 3rd party reference? What happened to “that book is closed?!?”
According to the article, a nine year “series of betrayals eventually broke his heart” and he (sniff) just had to make a change.
There is a word for that claim, it starts with “bull” and rhymes with “spit”!
Apparently, the list of betrayals began with the tired and argued to the point of nausea James Harden trade. Give me a break, that was FOUR YEARS AGO!!! A worn out narrative about a trade that, in the end, brought Steven Adams to the Thunder.
Show of hands; who thinks the Thunder are better off next season with Steven Adams on the verge of a break-out season over an aging Kendrick Perkins currently sitting by the phone waiting on someone to ask him to play? Anyone want to debate that? I didn’t think so.
- Who shot a horrendous 29% from 3-point range, 23.5% overall on the road in the 2012 Finals?
- Who is the reigning 2015-16 Shaqtin-A-Fool MVP? Another hint?
3. Who is rumored to be the player that Dwight Howard told Rocket management at the trade deadline, it is him...or me...trade somebody? See previous video.
Enough about the Harden trade! In the first place, a max offer may not have even have swayed Harden, we now know he didn’t want to be a third wheel. He wanted his own team and got it, and furthermore, the Thunder didn’t walk away from the trade with an empty sack.
Additionally, according to Rolling Stone, poor, poor little Kevin Durant “held his tongue when, summer after summer, the Thunder declined to add a proven third option.”
What was Kevin Martin, the Thunder’s veteran piece of the Harden trade? Chopped liver?!? Just a quick reminder, the 2012/13 Thunder team is the ONLY Thunder team to post 60 wins in the OKC era, second only that year to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat. And it took a cheap shot to Westbrook’s meniscus from Durant’s long-lost pal’s teammate, Patrick Beverly, to derail the Thunder’s quest for a repeat appearance in the finals and rematch in 2013.
Completely ignored in this fairy tale of betrayal and hurt feelings is Serge Ibaka. “Think Ray Allen in Boston, or [Kevin] Love in Cleveland?” If the writer wants to go there, how about Chris Bosh in Miami? He was pretty good before his health issues got the better of him. Wasn’t Bosh a part of Miami’s big three? Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh? With very little around them?
A quick comparison between Bosh and Ibaka, looking at the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons (the last seasons both played a full season without injury issues) shows just how slanted this article is. Bosh posted PER’s of 20.0 and 19.0 respectively while Ibaka’s PER’s were 19.4 and 19.6. So contrary to what the RS article says, it was not just Durant and Westbrook toiling alone, year after painful year, and the Thunder didn’t sputter in the playoffs because their opponents were deeper. They fell short because one of their big three got hurt.... or in the case of Durant’s supposed season of sudden self-awareness, 2014-15, two spent much of the season on the DL.
Oh look, finally an actual quote from the prima donna himself:
"Where other teams went out and got that veteran guy, we kept getting younger"
(quick summary, first it was Westbrook’s fault, then the fans fault, then the team environment’s fault, now it’s the organization’s fault)
...And there you have it folks. Kevin Durant has discovered the fountain of youth, and apparently, he was sharing that wondrous nectar with Russell Westbrook because, well...you just read it..they kept getting younger.
Seriously, what part of GM Sam Presti’s plan did Durant fail to comprehend? Presti’s plan to field a veteran team was by building one. Is Durant the unfortunate victim of some Peter Pan complex? The boy that refuses to grow up? HE, DURANT, HIMSELF, WAS BEING GROOMED TO BE “THAT VETERAN GUY” ON THIS TEAM!!!!!! Why would Presti waste valuable resources on a player that would never be as good as Durant would, or should, eventually be? Presti surrounded Durant with guys like Perkins, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed, and Derek Fisher over the years specifically so they could teach Durant how to be that veteran leader so that Presti could then develop new talent that would be groomed by his veteran leader, Durant.
That was Presti’s plan: Durant and Westbrook, veteran All-Stars leading a supporting cast that was good enough and deep enough for Andre Iguodala to say they were the best team in the 2016 playoffs...and they would have been even better in Billy Donovan’s second season as head coach.
Does the writer of RS article that accused the Thunder of trying “to win a championship on the cheap” pay any attention to free agency news? At all? The Thunder ponied up $70 million dollars for Enes Kanter last summer when he couldn’t guard a grave yard. If that is cheap, let me hit you up for a donation to the R.K. Anthony fund. Did you hear anything about the Ibaka to Orlando trade? Presti moved a player whose numbers had started to fade, for a rookie scale dynamic 3-and-D player who is hunting for a max contract, a lottery big already pushing for a spot in the starting rotation, and another big that just hit 47.1% of his 3 point attempts this preseason. Their combined salaries this year total $6 mil more than the Thunder paid an aging Ibaka last season. If that is what you call “on the cheap,” I hope someone else does your financial planning.
That “on the cheap” label started the day after the Thunder traded Harden to Houston. (smh - Harden again...)
Had Presti offered Harden a max deal in October of 2012, and, for argument’s sake, let’s assume Harden had taken it, the Thunder would not have won any more championships than they did without him. They wouldn’t have won one in 2012-13 because Westbrook got hurt. They wouldn’t have won one in 2014 because Ibaka got hurt. They certainly wouldn’t have won one with Durant’s foot in a boot in 2015, and by 2016 the luxury tax on a max Harden contract, with no championships to show for it, would have forced a massive fire sale. So, can we put this “on the cheap” bunk to bed once and for all?
At no point has Sam Presti ever declared a season, “the year.” Every season since he took over the reins has been a step in a process. A process designed around Kevin Durant. Who knows what Presti may have said had Durant stayed the course and done what he teased OKC fans and the Thunder organization with over the past 5 seasons and re-signed?
Show of hands again, who remembers this? “I love it here, man. I love my teammates, I love the city, I don't really think about anywhere else" or, “I'm one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career”,
or my personal favorite
(fyi RS- all of these Durant comments were made a full year AFTER his supposed “mental accounting”)
I do, I remember, and so does every single Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and I don’t know where Mr. Solotaroff hails from, but in Oklahoma, a man’s word is considered his bond. Call it old school if it makes you feel better, but honesty and loyalty matter in Oklahoma. They matter a hell of a lot more than how many times a man can run up and down a floor and throw a little ball through a little metal hoop. Russell Westbrook shares those values and they are a big reason why he re-signed with the Thunder.
Everything...and I do mean absolutely EVERYTHING Presti has done since he picked Kevin Durant with the number two pick in the 2006 draft, was geared toward Durant signing that contact extension on July 4th. Astrologically speaking, had Durant re-signed, Presti had manipulated the entire universe so that the planets would have aligned perfectly. Durant would have secured his legacy and had a legitimate shot at putting championship rings on his fingers rather than spending his summer throwing out strawmen and red herring excuses to cover his tracks after his departure.
Here’s an example.
I love this attempt to twist the facts about the Western Conference Finals:
The latest, and most hurtful, of those heart-stab ousters was the loss to Golden State in the Western Conference finals last May. Riding the brilliance of Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder raced out to a 3-1 lead, not just beating but bullying the reigning champs, knocking them around the lane like duckpins. Then suddenly, its stars ran out of gas against the three-headed monster of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Wow! I’m curious, did this writer even watch the 2016 Western Conference Finals? And this juicy morsel of mis-information is his take on game 6? What about game 5? Further, the Thunder did not race out to a 3-1 lead riding Durant’s brilliance; in fact, the primary reason the Thunder closed out game one was when Steven Adams ignored Durant, attacked the rim, drew a foul, and made his free throws rather than dishing to Solotaroff’s mythical hero who had just chucked 8 straight bricks in a row and blown an eight point OKC lead in the process.
The Thunder’s games 3 and 4 wins were more a product of what Durant didn’t do rather than what he did. Specifically, he didn’t shoot much. Which is ironic considering he was actually red hot in game three and shot 10 for 15 from the field. The role players carried the day for the Thunder in those games and they remained hot in games five and six. The Thunder didn’t lose games 5 and 6 because Durant and Westbrook “ran out of gas.” They lost them because Durant took it upon himself to jump his shot count up to 31 attempts even when he was so cold he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Durant didn’t run out of gas...he choked. He had the best team in the playoffs and couldn’t seal the deal with a 3-1 lead....
It is what it is...Durant choked.
Those ready to rush to Durant’s defense point out that Westbrook took a lot of shots in games 5 and 6 as well, but fail to realize Russ took the same number of shots in game 4 while Durant’s number jumped 9 shots in both of those critical losses. The relevance of that being, Westbrook stayed consistent with the flow of the offense and Durant didn’t. He choked.
One final head scratch-er. We have game 7, the game every kid that has ever dribbled a basketball dreams of playing in. Durant broke out of his 2 game slump and his teammates were struggling for the first time in four games. Now was the time for the franchise player to step up and take over. Why, in one of the biggest games of his life, and on a hot shooting night to boot, when his team most needed him, did Durant take 12 less shots than in his two previous games when he was cold as a stone?
On a final note about the piece in Rolling Stone.
No one in Oklahoma ever denied Durant any vacation time. The only comments I ever read from the fans that loved him too much on that front was that he pushed himself too hard. No one forced him into the gym, or made Durant “put his gaunt frame through unrelenting hell.” No one told him he had to open his door to a bunch of hanger-on and wanna-be’s that abused his hospitality and never pitched in. That is why God invented door locks.
Durant could have gone on vacation, taken better care of himself, and run the loafers out his house right here, and whatever problem lies behind those issues won’t simply vanish with a simple address change. It is impossible to run from yourself; you always take your personal baggage with you. The same problem that denies those vacations, drives him to work himself with a masochistic zeal, and prevents him from stepping up and kicking the deadbeats out of his house, could be the same problem that caused him to struggle in games 4, 5, and 6, and from never coming clean once and for all about the real reasons he left Oklahoma City.
Perhaps the Thunder were destined to win a title if Durant returned...perhaps not. Perhaps he isn’t meant to be a team’s Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, or Magic Johnson. There is no crime in that. Perhaps he was destined to be another Dominique Wilkins or Reggie Miller. We will never know now, but here’s the thing. No matter what, if Durant had come back the Oklahoma City, his fans would have backed him come hell or high water. Win or lose.
At the end of the day, no matter what excuse Durant or his spin doctors offer, his decision to leave is all on him; not Russell Westbrook, not the fans of Oklahoma City, not his other teammates, and certainly not the Oklahoma City Thunder organization. Because when all the dust settles, there is no getting past Sam Presti’s comments in a March, 2015 interview:
It’s been that way almost since the day Kevin Durant picked up a basketball, so please... enough is enough.