The 2016-17 NBA season has had some really great storylines. The Golden State Warriors have developed a solid rivalry with the Cleveland Cavaliers. “The Process” finally seems to be paying off for the Philadelphia 76ers. Robin Lopez is continuing his assaults on NBA mascots with no mercy. But arguably the most interesting and exciting story this season has been the drama surround Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and his former teammate, Warriors forward Kevin Durant.
— BallerAlert (@balleralert) January 19, 2017
For those who do not know the whole story, or may have forgotten it, let’s quickly recap first. This rivalry has roots in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had played their way to a surprising 3-1 lead over the Warriors. In Game 7, Golden State successfully completed the comeback to win the Conference Finals and advance to the Finals for the second straight season (where the Warriors would eventually blow a 3-1 lead of their own to allow the Cavaliers to claim their first ever NBA championship). Kevin Durant had just wrapped up his ninth season with the OKC franchise with yet another postseason loss, and he was set to become a unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. It became clear that KD was tired of the constant failures – he’s not getting any younger, and it’s time to go after that ring. The path of least resistance? Join the perennially contending favorites, the Golden State Warriors. Durant signed with the Warriors on a two-year, $54.3 million contract with a player option after the first year.
Fans, players, analysts, and virtually everyone else had something to say about this:
— Michael E (@MikeLovesSports) July 7, 2016
— Zesty NBA Thunder (@zesty_thunder) September 16, 2016
They’re comparing Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder for the Warriors to breaking up with a boyfriend because he didn’t put a ring on it
— Grape (@GrapeSodaPapi) July 22, 2016
That last one is probably the most accurate metaphor ever.
Meanwhile on the other side, Russell Westbrook was hounded with questions regarding his own feelings about Kevin Durant bolting to Oakland to join the “enemy,” so to speak. In true Russell Westbrook fashion, he was pretty cool and tight-lipped about the whole thing.
— Zesty NBA Thunder (@zesty_thunder) August 5, 2016
Reports have since surfaced the KD notified Russ that he was leaving “by text,” the Russ may have been hurt and/or angered by Durant leaving, and that Westbrook called him soft for not sticking it out and staying dedicated to helping his team win a championship. In the wake of the KD-to-Golden State news, trade rumors began circling Westbrook, especially as 2016-17 was the final year of his contract. Many outlets reported he intended to go elsewhere at the end of teh season, and that the Thunder would focus on rebuilding without their two leaders. In true Westbrook fashion, he simultaneously quieted all of the media noise and reaffirmed his dedication to the franchise that developed him into the player he is by signing a three-year, $85.7 million contract extension with the Thunder. And with that, their fates were set.
The first highly anticipated meeting between the two teams occurred on November 3rd, when the Thunder visited Oracle Arena to take on the Warriors for the first time this season. The stage was already set. Adding fuel to the fire was Russell Westbrook’s attire on showing up to the arena ahead of the game:
— Ball Don’t Lie (@YahooBDL) November 4, 2016
This was obviously a clear jab at Kevin Durant’s passion for photography, even if Russ would never openly admit to it. The two players also avoided each other and did not shake hands before the game. Making things even worse for the Thunder guard was the 122-96 pounding his team took at the hands of the Warriors. KD was riding high with his new bffs in Oakland, while Westbrook’s team looked like a D-League squad.
That seemed like the end of it for a while. Until the Warriors lost to the Cavaliers on Christmas Day a few hours before the Thunder were scheduled to play their own Christmas Day game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in OKC. Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving drilled another game-winning jumper to bury the Warriors with only a few seconds left. Video of Russell Westbrook from Thunder shootaround happened to surface later. Somebody seemed to be riding pretty high after the Warriors lost…
Sounds like Russell Westbrook yelled running & jumping into the tunnel “Thank you Kyrie” after he made his traditional pre-game jumpshot pic.twitter.com/QSBUZR6QoS
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) December 26, 2016
….For the record, Westbrook would later deny that he yelled, “Thank you Kyrie,” though you’re free to make your own assumptions about what was said. Kevin Durant seemingly has not responded to the comment. After that little spark, things were pretty quiet on the KD and Westbrook.
Then this past week happened. A second meeting between Westbrook and his former teammate-turned-archnemesis Durant on January 18th, also in Oakland. And this one had more of what people expected. From pregame stare-downs, to a very chippy third quarter tussle between Russ and KD, this game was an exciting one. (After the game, neither player would admit that anything happened in the third quarter, but it was clear that words were exchanged between the two on the court.) Despite the much more physical play between the two teams, the result brought on some serious déjà vu, as the Warriors would once again dominate the Thunder, the former beating the latter 121-100. It did not end there at the final buzzer. OKC forward Enes Kanter was headed over at the end of the game to talk to his former frontcourt mate Durant, when he was stopped by Westbrook, already walking off the court without exchanging any pleasantries. The words that stopped Kanter in his tracks? (Warning: language)
… Yep. It’s probably safe to say that any regret that KD may have had about leaving OKC is officially gone. Now granted, there were a number of Warriors players in the area as Kanter was heading over, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the MVP candidate was referring to.
The saga of Ruseell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant is one that has been talked about for many months already, and the saga is sure to continue for many more months to come. Expect things to really heat up on Saturday, February 11th when Durant finally returns to Oklahoma City for the first time with his new team to take on Westbrook and the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The confrontation will take place on the national stage, as it should, at 8:30 PM on ABC. The two players will also have one final meeting in OKC on March 20th to wrap up their four-game season series. Given how exciting the storyline for these two players has been throughout the season, one can only hope that these two teams manage to meet again at some point in the playoffs. It’s only February, and there is still a whole lot of season left to be played. Expect the saga to continue and lots of juicy new incidents to come out of it in the months ahead.
They’re gonna make a 30 for 30 one day about how Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder made Russell Westbrook on of the best players ever
— TJ⚾️ (@tjperkins0507) October 27, 2016
Let’s be honest, you know you would watch that.