OPINION: Why The Durant-Westbrook Feud Actually Matters
This year’s NBA All-Star game was headlined by one seemingly inconsequential event – the reunion of feuding former teammates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Would the coach of the Western All-Star team, Steve Kerr, put them on the floor at the same time? Would they celebrate together after they made a shot? Would they even acknowledge the other’s presence?
Sports pundits asked these questions – among several thousand others – over and over again ever since it was announced that both players would be in the All-Star game. Every dramatic scenario between Durant and Westbrook was possible according to those in charge of the sporting world’s natter.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook continue to avoid one another. pic.twitter.com/bfeDwsRLRZ
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 18, 2017
As it turns out, Durant and Westbrook did play together. They even connected for a leisurely alley-oop towards the end of the first quarter and celebrated coyly on the bench a few minutes later.
When the buzzer shrieked at the end of the fourth quarter – mercifully ending a game in which not a single player played defense – the haze of drama dissipated and we were all left asking ourselves why this feud ever mattered.
If one play, requiring minimal effort and only a few seconds, ends a heated conversation that took up hours of airtime, maybe the conversation wasn’t very important.
But it was, just not for the reason the pundits said it was.
The Durant-Westbrook feud is a result of the current culture of building NBA super-teams – a method that several general managers have utilized in hopes of creating championship franchises.
The history of super-teams began in 2007, when the Boston Celtics brought together Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. All three players were elite talents with at least a few years of solid play left in them. Unlike many of the super-teams of the near future, the 2007 Celtics were created through trades, not free-agency signings. But like many of the other super-teams, the Celtics won the championship.
The super-team that signified that this method of franchise building was now a trend was the 2011 Miami Heat. LeBron James made “The Decision,” and joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in the sunshine state. They won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.
What is most notable about this team, in relation to Westbrook and Durant, is that James left a franchise that raised him and loved him not for another franchise but for a specific team – one built for the present and not for history, tradition, or loyalty.
From 2011 to 2016 several other super-teams were built but none were as threatening or successful as Miami. James eventually left to go back to Cleveland – but only after they had committed to building a super-team of their own.
The possibility to create a team as strong as 2011-2013 Miami seemed like an impossible fantasy. That is, until Durant started talking to the Golden State Warriors.
The Seattle Supersonics drafted Durant in 2007, the last year before they relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He was the lone bright spot in an otherwise abysmal franchise. Winning Rookie of the Year, Durant was their future but he needed a little help.
In 2008, the Thunder drafted Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in the hopes that he would serve as the support Durant would need to blossom into a true star.
By 2010, thunder had struck in Oklahoma City as Durant and Westbrook began to click on the floor and off of it. Together, they turned the Thunder into a perennial playoff team.
In the age of super-teams, the Thunder had built a successful franchise the old-fashioned way – drafting quality players and building solid support around them. But the closest they came to winning a championship trophy was in 2012 when they lost in the finals to the super-team in Miami.
In the summer of 2016, after losing to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Durant signed with the team that had just beaten him for $54.3 million.
Joining Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, Durant rounded out what is arguably the most powerful super-team ever assembled. Pundits roared, calling foul about how this sort of team should not be allowed to come into existence. They called Durant a traitor and compared his move to the Miami move James made years earlier.
But more hurt than any of the pundits or fans was Durant’s former brother-in-arms, Westbrook, who barley got a proper good-bye. When asked about his friend’s fancy new contract, Westbrook would opt for either the silent treatment or a change of subject, undoubtedly fueling the feud in the eyes of the press.
Considering that the two players had spent nearly a decade playing successful basketball together, Westbrook’s grievances are understandable. Durant gave up on a franchise that had invested everything into him, for a team with a fan-base primarily made of fair-weathers on a sunny day.
In Oklahoma City, it was Durant and Westbrook against the world. They had brought a team up from the ashes, defined a franchise, and became the pride of the city. While they couldn’t deliver a trophy, they showed us that the old way of creating a championship caliber team is still exciting and possible.
When Durant left the Thunder he departed from more than just the city, the franchise, or from Westbrook – he left behind the way championship teams used to be made.
That is the real drama. That is what we should have spoken about in those weeks leading up to the All-Star Game. That is why Westbrook should be mad.
Westbrook – who has blossomed into an absolute stud in Durant’s absence – is still holding out for the old way. He signed a three-year extension after Durant left, proving that some players still do it right.
Unfortunately, Westbrook is unlikely to win a championship in Oklahoma City. The super-teams are too powerful. The Warriors, who have appeared against the Cavaliers in the past two NBA Finals, are, by all appearances, headed back. The Eastern Conference, which is far weaker than the West, is open for the Cavaliers to take.
Since 2008, a super-team has appeared every NBA Finals except one, in 2009. Even if a franchise builds from the ground up to create a successful team, they don’t stand a chance in the wake of the Warriors, Cavaliers, or whatever beast of a super-team comes next.
The Durant-Westbrook feud may now be dead but it was born out of the death of something much larger. And that is the real drama we should all be focused on.