Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are arguably the best 1-2 combination in the NBA. But whenever you have two headstrong 23-year-old superstars on the same team playing for the same goals chances are they’ll have some disagreements.
That ugly scenario played out in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, Dec. 28, as Durant and Westbrook were seen having a heated discussion on the bench during a timeout. It was the second public dispute between the two young stars, the first occurred during last season’s playoff series against the Denver Nuggets. The latest argument became a media sensation, especially on Twitter, and some tweets went as far as suggesting the Thunder should trade Westbrook.
Both players brushed off the incident and Durant told reporters on Thursday that the whole thing was blown out of proportion. “It happens every single day. Teams go through emotions, things happen,” Durant said. “It’s a competitive sport. Everybody’s not going to always come in and be happy every single day.”
Those who were calling for Westbrook’s dismissal should take a minute and think about the repercussions of such a move. Westbrook is a gifted athlete blessed with unbelievable quickness. The only other guard with the same athletic ability is probably Derrick Rose, the league’s reigning MVP. Rose and Westbrook are unique talents who don’t come around often.
Of all the basketball pundits who chimed in on the Westbrook-Durant situation it was the recently retired Shaquille O’Neal who had the most interesting take. “Sometimes rifts can be a good thing,” O’Neal said on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” prior to Oklahoma City’s home game against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. It was an interesting comment coming from a guy who endured a very contentious relationship with Kobe Bryant when they were teammates in Los Angeles. The arguments between Westbrook and Durant are minor aftershocks compared to the Shaq-and-Kobe feud.
O’Neal said former Lakers coach Phil Jackson afforded his players a two-minute “rift session” to air things out. Once that’s over and done with, Jackson then reels in the combatants and asks them to return to the circle and move on from the argument. It worked. Despite their disdain for one another, O’Neal and Bryant teamed up for three straight NBA championships and reached the NBA Finals four times in five seasons.
Before their messy divorce in 2004 when O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat and Kobe was blamed for Shaq’s departure, O’Neal and Bryant made the Lakers the most lethal team in the NBA. O’Neal dominated the interior while Bryant lit guys up from the perimeter. So, for those who say two players who dislike can’t coexist, Shaq and Kobe dismissed that theory. They may not have jived off the court, but on the court they made a lot of noise.
Durant has said on many occasions that he supports Westbrook 100 percent and the feeling is mutual with Westbrook. Thunder coach Scott Brooks is also saying all the right things, suggesting that Westbrook is “special” and the team and the coaching staff are not ready to give up on the former UCLA star.
The Thunder could learn something from the Shaq-Kobe episode. Management would be foolish to give up on a tandem that averaged nearly 50 points per game last season. Brooks and general manager Sam Presti need to be patient with the highly emotional Westbrook and allow him to figure things out on his own. Durant and Westbrook get along just fine off the court. They just need to find that harmony on the court. Oklahoma City is ready to play for a championship, and Durant needs Westbrook to make it happen.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.