Warriors

Draymond: Warriors want to beat Thunder 'really bad' for Durant

Draymond: Warriors want to beat Thunder 'really bad' for Durant

Not since the 2000s, when Kobe and Shaq were squabbling members of the Lakers, has a relationship between NBA teammates been analyzed and scrutinized as much Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.

The examination – and insinuation – continues even now, four months after Durant left the Thunder to join the Warriors.

The subject can at least begin to be put to rest Thursday night, when Durant and Westbrook meet on the court as OKC comes to Oakland to face the Warriors at Oracle Arena.

[RATTO: Maybe Westbrook vs Durant really about you rather than them]

Because of his eight seasons alongside Westbrook and also his nine years with the organization, Durant acknowledges his emotions will run high.

“It’s just the way it is,” he said last Tuesday night, after a 127-104 victory over the Trail Blazers. “I’ve got a job to do. At the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and do it.

“But it’ll be good to see some people I haven’t seen in a while.”

Durant’s July 4 decision as a free agent to leave OKC and join the Warriors broke hearts and some of the spirit in the heartland. Once a beloved icon of the Sooner State, Durant in the eyes of many became a traitor. Fans of the Thunder were, and still are, angry that Durant made a choice that not only weakened their team but also left them feeling abandoned.

Westbrook has said and done precious little to distance himself from those who remain bitter over Durant’s departure.

That Durant has continued to speak highly of Westbrook and also expressed a modicum of regret over not personally speaking to his ex-teammate about his decision speaks to the personality differences between the two men.

[RELATED: Durant, Westbrook 'going through a tough time right now']

Whereas Westbrook is a hard-charging competitor who approaches every game, every season, with an us-or-them mentality, Durant takes a broader view. Suns coach Earl Watson, a friend to both, recently explained that an in-season meeting with Durant would result in an embrace but such niceties with Westbrook would more likely be put on hold until the offseason.

That hardly means Westbrook hates Durant, and it surely does not imply Durant detests Westbrook.

“We’re boys,” Durant told Bay Area News Group this week. “My interest went this way, his went that way. He got married, I didn’t. He hung with his wife. What you want me to do? I love Russ. I don’t care what nobody say. I don’t care what he say or what the fans say. Like, this is a tough time right now in our relationship. But I love Russ. I love his family.”

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma City, the rage continues. Some fans burned Durant jerseys, while others vented on talk radio. Durant’s popular restaurant, KD’s, was forced to undergo a change in management and, moreover, get renamed.

That Westbrook, now the clear franchise player, has started in such spectacular fashion – he leads the league in scoring and through three games is averaging a triple-double – the fans may be on the verge of getting over Durant.

Maybe.

But Durant, while conceding OKC fans have a right to feel as they do, is quick to say the memories and friendships made with his former employer will stay with him forever.

Warriors forward Draymond Green, who was a leading figure in the recruitment of Durant, has become one of Durant’s good friends. He understands what his new teammate is coping with and knows it can’t be easy for Durant to clash with his former teammates.

“I think it’ll be a lot of emotions,” Green said. “They’re going to want to beat him really bad. He’s going to want to beat them really bad. In turn, we’re going to want to beat them really bad because we want him to beat them really bad.

“It’ll be a lot of emotions, but it’ll be a fun game to play in. It’s always a high-intensity game against them and I expect nothing less.”

Durant says he’ll get away from basketball on Wednesday, take some time for himself and recharge. The game will be there on Thursday. Maybe he needs a few hours to absorb what’s ahead.

It’s going to be a strange feeling for Durant to take the court and face those wearing the only NBA jersey he had known previous to joining the Warriors.

“I wouldn’t say weird,” Durant said. “I’ll be just locked in, I guess, to following the game plan and just playing.

“Once you step on the court and you see the different jersey, I’m sure it will hit me. But for the most part, once we’re going over game-plan stuff I’ll just try my best to lock in and get ready.”

There is no doubt, though Durant would like to get past the ongoing drama, much of which has been the result of fabrication and hypothesis. Practically anything Durant has said in praise of Warriors has been inferred as condemnation of the Thunder.

Practically anything he says that sheds positive light on a Warriors teammate is studied for the chance it may be a veiled complaint or cryptic critique of his former teammates, Westbrook in particular.

This is not Kobe-Shaq, the cornerstones of Lakers teams that won three championships before they grew tired of sharing the same space. This is Durant-Westbrook, teammates that went quite far but never all the way to the top.

Durant’s move did not dismantle a team laying waste to the NBA. It merely sent him to the place of his choice, to join teammates with which he had grown comfortable.

He has moved on. He’s ready for the rest of the world to move on. Maybe on Thursday the issue will take a long stride toward the dusty pages of history.
 

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

When Kevin Durant first joined the Warriors in 2016, skeptics wondered if Golden State could make it work.

Would Durant and Steph Curry be able to co-exist? Would there be enough shots for Durant, Curry and Klay Thompson? Would everyone remain happy with their role and numbers?

Those questions were answered pretty quickly. It took a few months, but Durant, Curry and the Warriors gelled midway through their first season together. They went on to claim the 2016-17 NBA title and ran it back the next season en route to a sweep in the 2017-18 NBA Finals.

Everyone seemed happy. Everyone got their shots. The third season wasn't as smooth, but it still almost ended with a third consecutive title.

After losing the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, Durant decided it was time to move on and signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

But looking back, the experiment was a success. Durant and Curry co-existed, forming one of the most dominant duos in NBA history. Thompson didn't "sacrifice" as much as people thought he would, and ended up signing a max contract with the Warriors this offseason.

Now, a new duo — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — has critics wondering if the players can co-exist.

Both are MVPs and two of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA. So, will the Houston Rockets' experiment work? Harden believes it will.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out" Harden told The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. "You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”

Harden used a key word there. Sacrifice.

The players on the Warriors were willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Are Harden and Westbrook capable of making the same sacrifice? Harden is confident their longstanding friendship will help matters.

“It works,” Harden told Feigen. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

While Harden and Westbrook went to the NBA Finals in 2012 as members of the Oklahoma City Thunder, neither has returned since. Both have reached the conference finals in recent years but have gone no further.

Other Western Conference teams have loaded up, but Houston is bringing back a team that is mostly intact from last season and swapped Westbrook for an aging and injury-prone Chris Paul.

So maybe this is finally Houston's year.

[RELATED: Warriors could be 'terrifying' in 2019]

“That’s my boy right there, since I was like 10 or 11 years old,” Harden said of Westbrook. “Obviously, we were teammates for [three] years. Now, we’re at different stages of our careers. I’m excited for the opportunity. I hear a lot of negative things: you can’t, he can’t, they can’t. But we’ll figure it out. I’m excited for the opportunity. I know the rest of the organization is. It’s time.”

The Warriors were able to turn the Curry-Durant partnership into two NBA titles. How many titles, if any, the Rockets can grab with Harden and Westbrook is to be determined. But they certainly have the talent to bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to H-Town.

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

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USATSI

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

The Warriors will enter the 2019-20 NBA season in unfamiliar territory.

For one, they won't enter the season as title favorites for the first time since lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2015 after significant roster turnover headlined by Kevin Durant's departure in free agency. For another, they will begin the campaign without star guard Klay Thompson in the opening-night lineup for the first time since 2010 as he recovers from a torn ACL. 

But that isn't enough to write off Golden State as an NBA title contender, according to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry. 

"I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be all over this bet," Goldsberry wrote in a Friday column, referring to the Warriors opening the season as +1,400 championship favorites according to Caesar's Palace. "Why? Call me crazy, but if Klay Thompson returns to action by March or April, and the Warriors are in the playoffs, they're terrifying."

Placing them in his third tier of championship contenders, Goldsberry noted that the Warriors' experience could give them an edge over other title contenders. He also proposed that sign-and-trade acquisition D'Angelo Russell could "take another leap" under head coach Steve Kerr. Russell, who was an All-Star last season, doesn't have the same defensive upside as Thompson, but gives Golden State another credible scoring threat while one half of the Splash Brothers sits on the sidelines. 

[RELATED: Why Mychal Thompson has MVP expectations for Steph]

That defensive drop-off is what concerns Goldsberry the most, especially with Thompson set to miss so much of the season while Durant and Andre Iguodala no longer are playing in the Bay. The Warriors finished outside of the top 10 in defensive rating in each of the last two seasons despite the presence of all three players on the roster. As NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann observed earlier this week, those absences leave the Warriors with a lot of question marks on the defensive end of the court. 

The best-case scenarios for the Warriors next season involve a lot of "ifs." If Russell can effectively fill in for Thompson and if Thompson can return healthy and if the Warriors figure out their defense, then Golden State could be a force in the postseason. The Warriors will have 82 games to figure it all out, but they are still a team few would want to face if and when they do.