Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook all on the same team — no, you are not playing 2k with trade override on. This was a thing back in the day. The trio was ready to take the league by storm. They even reached an NBA Finals in 2012, but the lights were too bright, and LeBron James won his first NBA championship. What was going to be a decade of domination ended that year, after the front office couldn’t work out an extension with Harden, trading the former Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets, breaking up the promising young core.
Durant and Westbrook were still one of the best pairings in the league and were still making deep playoff pushes. However, the duo was never able to go all the way, having their run together ended in 2016. There was a feeling that they didn’t live up to their full potential. And looking them individually, that may be true. We’re talking about the only guy in league’s history who averaged a triple-double in multiple seasons and one of the greatest scorers the NBA has ever seen on the same team. However, injuries and their fit on the floor stopped them from ever lifting the trophy.
Although the two were on good terms off the court, their play styles clashed, which ultimately resulted in Durant leaving. Russ’s recklessness and out-of-control play didn’t sit well with KD, who wasn’t satisfied with the tone Westbrook was setting as the team’s point guard. He also wasn’t confident with the type and amount of touches Russ was providing him, although being the team’s prominent best scorer. It all accumulated to the point when Durant had to leave.
To the outside world, their relationship seemed fine. It is evident that they weren’t the perfect fit, but they were able to compensate it with how individually talented they were. However, to the people more familiar with the inside and on-the-court stuff, there were some indications of the two separating. According to Bill Simmons, Kobe was one of those guys.
“He wasn’t sure what would happen with the Oklahoma City. He was delighted that they traded Harden. He knew Durant was more talented, but he believed Westbrook was the ‘dog’ of that team. He meant that admirably. We debated Durant-Westbrook a little. At that point, Durant looked like he was headed for multiple MVPs and a few titles. Kobe wasn’t so sure. He thought it was Westbrook’s team and that Russ was the one with the ‘dog’ in him, not Durant. ‘So wait,’ I asked him ‘you think it’s a potential problem?’ ‘Maybe,’ Kobe said.”
This is interesting to think about. Especially considering Kobe’s relationship with Shaq and how that turned out. They were a much better fit on the floor, but they couldn’t settle their off-court differences. Kobe was involved in a whole not being on the same page as your teammate type of situation and could anticipate potential problems in Oklahoma. He knew that those relationships have expiration dates. Sure, it can work for some time, and it can even be successful, but at the end of the day, it will fall apart.
Kobe also recognized himself in Westbrook. It seems like he was sure Russ wasn’t going to change. Because at the end of the day, Kobe didn’t change. They were both ‘dogs’ who had no intention to adjust anymore. They wanted to do things their way and on their terms. For Kobe, it meant proving he could win without Shaq; for Russ, it meant not changing his playstyle and altering it to KD. He is who he is on the floor. And if it meant losing his all-time great teammate, it didn’t matter to Russ. Maybe that’s the wrong thing to say. Perhaps it mattered to him, but he didn’t have it in him to change it. And he is still like that in Houston, only a lighter version of himself, being more experienced. But overall he’s the same type of player.
There were even rumors about Kobe purposely trying to undermine Durant and Westbrook during the 2012 Olympics, with him trying to initiate the argument about who was the team’s best player at the time, which would ultimately result in the bad chemistry between the two.
“Kobe made a point of guarding Westbrook during practices and pumping him up, the theory being that he wanted to incite Russ to bump heads with KD over who the team’s best player is.”
Alex Kay, BR
Those rumors were never confirmed by anybody. However, the fact remains that it’s a shame that the duo couldn’t adjust more to one another. It is also the fact that, no matter how crazy the story sounds, we should never underestimate Kobe’s competitive spirit and his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Even if it was some psychological exploit, no one could ever come up with.