When he left OKC, Kevin Durant got criticized because he was joining Golden State, a team that had just beat him and his team in the playoffs. The other side of the coin seemed pretty simple - most people agreed that KD left because he was tired of playing with Russell Westbrook. Westbrook's immature reaction to KD's departure helped fuel that conclusion.
The second most used explanation was obvious. Oklahoma City vs. San Francisco? It couldn't be more different. Not only in terms of lifestyle, but in the number of investment opportunities. KD's success supports that point - he made over $35 million off the court in 2019 alone.
What about the Thunder? Everyone pitied them. Yet another small market team was losing a guy they drafted to the big city. The closes thing to criticism of the Thunder as an organization you'd hear would be reporters connected to the team talking about their rigid way of doing things. The NBA has rules on media availability teams, and players have to follow; reporters would often mention KD and Russ didn't always abide by those. It seemed everything was adjusted to KD's and Westbrook's drum. According to Kendrick Perkins, that's not the full picture.
“Sam Presti, great GM, he grew up under the great Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs culture. Very strict. He had guys watching our social media all the time, so we could never really say nothing or be ourselves.”
Kendrick Perkins, SSAC20
Pop always says the key behind the Spurs' success was Tim Duncan letting him coach the way Pop wants to coach. If the best guy on the team buys in, others will follow. Not only that, but that closed off Spurs way fits Duncan's nature. But when people from the Pop coaching tree go to different organizations with different stars, the Spurs way doesn't always work.
“When he left Oklahoma City, everyone kept saying 'Oh, it's because of Russ.' But it wasn't because of Russ. See, he left Oklahoma City because he got tired of not being able to be himself. When he got to Golden State, he was himself, although he was hiding behind a burner account.”
Kendrick Perkins, SSAC20
Look, I'm sure playing with Russ was a part of it. Not only that - the opportunity to play with Steph, Klay, and Draymond has to be tantalizing for everyone who enjoys basketball. But we neglect to talk about the fact KD went from a very regimented, rigid organization to a team that fueled on joy.
Striking that balance between adjusting to your star, and asking your star to respect team rules and principles is becoming more and more difficult in the NBA. GM's and coaches have to navigate a much more complex web of ideas and desires. That is why character fit between organizations and players will become more important in the years to come. The teams left in the Playoffs prove it.