There's simply no Good vs Evil narrative to Durant-Westbrook rivalry

There's simply no Good vs Evil narrative to Durant-Westbrook rivalry

Programming note: The Santa Cruz Warriors will take on the Oklahoma City Blue in Oracle Arena Sunday at 6:00 p.m. on CSN Bay Area.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- When Kevin Durant walks into Chesapeake Energy Arena Saturday night, he will be wearing a Warriors jersey on the outside and eight years of his life on the inside.

And for those eight years in Oklahoma City, Durant was alongside Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, the firebrand competitor that Durant defended and empowered and protected and praised and even professed, in public, to love.

Where is the love now?

Did it really die last July, when Durant, a free agent, announced his intention to sign with the Warriors, thereby leaving OKC and Westbrook?

They are now opponents, yet something more than that. They are foes. There is contempt. Understand, though, there is no simple “good-vs.-evil” narrative. This is not Ali-Frazier or Federer-Nadal or even Magic vs. Larry. The Durant-Westbrook stakes are lower yet no less spirited, because Durant-Westbrook may be more personal than any of the aforementioned.

The animosity of the jilted burns hotter in this instance because the mutual respect was bonded by brotherly love.

From all appearances and insinuations by both men, their occasionally tumultuous relationship came undone by the most common and destructive forces: lack of communication.

Durant’s July 4 decision to leave Oklahoma City blindsided Westbrook. Not necessarily because he assumed Durant was coming back but because he clearly felt they had formed enough of a brotherhood that Durant surely would reach out and tell him.

“I found out like ya’ll found out -- on the news, on the cell phones, on social media,” Westbrook said one month after Durant moved on. “I was talking to Kevin early on in the process, but nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”

Put another way, this at times tense relationship came completely undone by that most common of destructive forces: lack of communication.

Durant, in this instance, failed. He admits it. And he regrets it. Can’t undo it now. But he can address it. He must, as the drama that has played out unremittingly for more than seven months surely is nearing its end game.

Durant will see Westbrook for the first time in OKC. The two will reunite under vastly different conditions next week in New Orleans, where they will be teammates on the Western Conference All-Star team. They will, once again, share the court. They will, once again, dress in the same locker room.

These are opportunities for Durant to speak up, or at least attempt to. If he truly believes he could have handled it better, as he has said, reach out. It’s past time for him to extend an olive branch.

If Durant’s old teammate has no interest in listening, then the ongoing cold war falls back on Westbrook. Those who know him best say Westbrook during the season resorts to a personal bunker mentality. It’s him and his team against the world.

To know that once upon a time it was the Thunder, featuring Durant and Westbrook, against the world -- and that the two of them won a lot of battles -- provides illustration and, to a degree, justification for Westbrook’s cool insolence.

We don’t know that Westbrook feels betrayed. But when a man you’ve known for so long, on the court and off, is able to walk away without a word, who could blame him for feeling scorned?

Yet Durant would have been foolish if he wanted to leave but opted to stay because it would have pleased Westbrook. Durant, 28, is too emotionally advanced for that. He made a practical decision based on what was right for him.

In doing so, Durant left behind many friends and associates. He didn’t extinguish the relationships, but he created a distance that forever changed the precious dynamic he had with fans in Oklahoma -- and with Westbrook.

Durant’s greatest glories came in this slice of America, and they came with Westbrook at his side. There were many victories, numerous accolades and countless memorable moments. Durant spent most of his adult life here. He grew, became a man.

Westbrook was a witness to all of it. They shared hugs and the company of family members. They collaborated on several projects in the Oklahoma City area.

That they have nothing to say to each other is attributed to inaction for Durant, but Westbrook’s overreaction fosters the perception of a feud. He feeds the friction, which keeps alive this storyline.

Durant says he’s tired of talking about it. I believe him. But this won’t go away unless he and Westbrook clear the air and put it away. No need for an apology or even an explanation.

It begins with a desire to patch the rift in hopes of bringing down the curtain on this drama. The sooner the better, even if Westbrook may be more amenable in, say, July.

Report: During players-only meeting, Spurs implore Kawhi to return to lineup


Report: During players-only meeting, Spurs implore Kawhi to return to lineup

The Kawhi Leonard saga continues to take twists and turns.

After last Saturday night's win over Minnesota, the Spurs had a players-only meeting and implored Kawhi Leonard to return to game action, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

It didn't seem to work.

From Woj:

Leonard, 26, was resolute in response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quad injury this season, league sources said.

Leonard has targeted games in the recent week, only to decide that he wasn't feeling confident in the injury to return, league sources said.

After San Antonio's shootaround on Wednesday, Manu Ginobili was asked about Kawhi.

"He is not coming back," Ginobili told reporters. "For me, he's not coming back because it's not helping. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it.

"But we have to think that he's not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn't be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball."

Entering Thursday, the Spurs (42-30) are in 5th place in the Western Conference, three games clear of the 9th-place Nuggets. 

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Warriors keeping quiet on playoff roster battles for the right reasons


Warriors keeping quiet on playoff roster battles for the right reasons

OAKLAND -- At the mention of the most relevant non-injury question related to the Warriors, Steve Kerr treats the subject like an IRS bill he’ll eventually have to pay.

“It’s not even something that we have to address,” Kerr said the other day.

On the same subject, Kerr’s boss, general manager Bob Myers, also goes into full procrastination mode.

“We’ll sit down at the end of this regular season,” Myers told 95.7 FM The Game on Wednesday, “and decide what our playoff roster should look like.”

Ah, yes, the playoff roster. Neither Kerr nor Myers is sharing details -- on whether Quinn Cook will be included -- because they don’t have to, don’t need to and are smart enough to avoid the fallout sure to follow a premature announcement.

Understand, though, Kerr and Myers realize they have to add Cook. The young point guard has earned it on merit and out of potential need.

Since replacing the injured Stephen Curry in the starting lineup March 9, Cook is averaging 16.3 points per game on 52.7-percent shooting, including 43.3 percent from deep. Over the last three games, as Cook grew comfortable with his role, those numbers rose to 24.3, 60.4 and 54.5.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all what Quinn’s doing,“ Kerr said. “We watched him in the G-League all year, lighting it up. We watched him in practice here; he’s one of our best shooters. And all of a sudden he’s playing 40 minutes? This is what he can do.”

“We kept telling him, go get 20. Go get 25. We need that. If you look at our roster without the guys that we have, he should be our leading scorer. That’s what he does.”

Yet the Warriors wisely will delay any announcement as long as possible. They can wait as late as April 11, the last day an NBA contract can be signed and be effective for this season. They have until noon April 13 to submit the postseason roster.

Cook, as a two-way player, doesn’t possess a standard NBA contract. He can only be added to the postseason roster if the Warriors create an opening. Someone on the current 15-man roster, holding a guaranteed contract, would have to be released before additions can be made.

No one is more vulnerable in that regard than Omri Casspi, who has been in and out of the lineup more than anyone else mostly as a result of inconsistent play, poor defense and nagging injuries. The veteran fell out of the rotation in January and was relegated mostly to blowout minutes before a cluster of injuries struck the team.

The Warriors have become increasingly reluctant to play him in crucial moments, and the playoffs are all about crucial moments.

The only other candidate is center Damian Jones, who almost certainly won’t play in the postseason. He spent nearly all season with G-League Santa Cruz, but remains on the team’s radar beyond this season. The Warriors aren’t certain he’s a keeper, but they’ve exercised the option to bring him back next season.

Which brings us back to Casspi, the veteran forward who signed a one-year contract last July. The Warriors are not invested in him beyond this season.

The team is moderately invested in Cook. His two-way contract runs through next season. Off what he has shown this season, particularly in recent games, he’s a strong candidate to swap the two-way pact for a standard NBA deal next season.

“He’s been great for us,” Myers told 95.7 The Game. “The future will be interesting. We like him a lot.”

Cook, who turns 25 on Friday, is the most dynamic point guard on the roster not named Stephen Curry. In the wake of Curry’s recurrent ankle woes this season, Kerr and Myers are acutely aware of the value in having someone comfortable sharing the load at the point with veteran Shaun Livingston. You may remember last year, when the Warriors were desperate enough to sign 35-year-old Jose Calderon for a similar role.

Cook is, at this time, more valuable than either Casspi or Jones. Or Calderon.

“We’re setting the roster going into the playoffs and make the best decision that allows us to win,” Myers said. “(CEO Joe Lacob) has made it clear. One thing about Joe . . . it’s about that. That’s the only directive he gives. Go win.

“Steve’s the coach. He’s the boss. He’s the captain of that ship, as far as what the roster should look like going into the playoffs.”

Cook’s fine work and Curry’s cranky ankle have brought the Warriors to this place. They have roughly three weeks to make the call or, rather, officially announce it.