The news that James Harden's and Kevin Durant's relationship was so sour throughout the summer that they, not for even a single day, worked out in the same gym together is mind-boggling. Or is it? It's already clear they both had divisive personalities. Durant is sensitive - Harden is narcissistic. We only have 27 seasons and 5 bad breakups as evidence of that. But the dynamic's demise is more of a result of the two All-NBA talents stepping on each other toes.
Everyone's toes were crushed
Clearly, as we shall dive into later, you don't have to like everyone you work with. But generally, it's a lot more achievable if you work in different departments or don't share the same roles. Durant and Harden didn't have that privilege. Despite the height difference, Harden and Durant both wanted the ball. They both play alongside the perimeter. They both want to shoot and run isolation plays. Mix that with Kyrie Irving's similar playstyle and a liter of headcase incidents, and now everyone's toes are crushed.
Because don't forget Harden had every reason to want to come back and try to make things work. Sure he wasn't playing great, but the team was 16-3 with the trio on the floor. They were one inch of a Durant jumper from taking the eventual championed Milwaukee Bucks to 7 games, with no Kyrie and an injured Harden playing at 10%. Okay, maybe that was 20% of playoff Harden, but still. So theoretically speaking, with Durant back in time for playoffs, Kyrie playing every away game, including all game 7's, and Harden included on the roster even at the regressed level he was at, they'd still be most people's pick to win it all.
Yet still by all reports, "Kevin and James had a cold war going for the last several months that made everyone miserable", said someone with close knowledge of the situation. This season highlights that when stars share chemistry, role players fall in line, leading to an overall good basketball team. I'm sure this was the lesson that Chris Paul instilled on the currently first-seeded Phoenix Suns that he learned from his dysfunctional Clippers days.
Separation nullifies conflict
Again, just like work, the conflict between players means less if the roles are defined and separated. Despite all the bickering, Kobe was the small guy, and Shaq was the big guy. That was clear. So they could hate each other all they wanted, but Kobe wasn't trying to post up centers like Shaq wasn't trying to nail fadeaways jumpers from the midrange. Conflict is still conflict, however. Just cause they worked different zones and had ticked off different criteria to get recognition - didn't rule out the impact of conflict.
Once Kobe and Shaq eventually lost to the heartfelt Pistons, not even winning three consecutive championships was enough of a foundation for them to go back to the drawing board and click restart. With some adjusted mechanics, they would have run through those Pistons, and at that time, still had never lost to the Spurs once Kobe reached the frobe All-Star level.
But the trio in Brooklyn could never reach those heights due to a colossal amount of random factors, but the biggest was their shared skill sets mixed with ego-driven personalities. It was a large part of why Embiid and Simmons never fit. When looking at them and knowing nothing, you would think they fit the traditional big man/ small man duo. Instead, due to Simmons' reluctance to shoot from the perimeter, he clogged the lane for Embiid, forcing the two to operate the same area at a different pace.
The truth is that your chemistry, which is your personality merged with compatibility, is the defining factor of your odds of reaching full potential.