With Durant signing with the Warriors, their run together was officially over, in what was described as a ‘horrible divorce.’ The aftermath wasn’t pretty as well. Headbutts, trash-talking, calling each other out, those were all manifestations of the animosity between two superstars. And it turns out it might have been Kobe who planted the seeds for it in the first place.
Kobe’s efforts to sow dissent among the OKC’s young core took place during the ’12 Olympics. Durant was coming off his third-straight scoring title, leading Oklahoma to the franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals, where they lost to Miami’s Big Three. At that point, it was clear that the Thunder had building blocks to compete for a title. But so did the guys wearing purple and gold.
With the additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers were looking to get back into title contention after two straight second-round exits in the playoffs. In such a quest, OKC would pose a serious threat, and so, in the hopes of straining the bond between KD and Russ, Bryant pulled off Inception-like psychological shenanigans, planting a seed for a potential fall out. But did it work? I’ll let you decide.
Between the Olympics and the year Durant left the Thunder, Russ averaged 19.1 FGAs. Prior to the Olympics, Russ only averaged 15.7. Before ’12, Durant was always the one who took the most shots on the team. In the next four seasons, he led his team twice in FGAs. The other two seasons were Russell’s. Take this with a grain of salt, as both Durant and Westbrook suffered serious injuries over the stretch, meaning that some discrepancies might not be as representative as they imply.
However, the fact is, after the ’12 Olympics, the dynamic with OKC’s superstar duo changed. You can say it was their growth or the system around them. Or you can simply say it was Kobe getting into Westbrook’s head, causing him to do one thing no one ever wanted him to do – shoot more.