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Kevin Durant’s Russell Westbrook problem

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Hashing out right and wrong in the ongoing Durant-Westbrook beef.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant watches Russell Westbrook at the line, November 3, 2016.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Before returning to Oklahoma City for the first time as a member of the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant took to the airwaves (in an attempt) to set the record straight — or, at least, smooth out a runway ahead of his arrival in Loud City.

Durant has consistently downplayed reported problems with Russell Westbrook since joining Golden State in July. And, from a distance, the mature Durant downplaying off-court drama seems like the right move, in contrast to the volatile Westbrook, who seemingly takes every single mention of the Warriors as personal slander.

So Wednesday’s interview of Durant crying “fake news” on all the drama should come as no surprise. But, is it fair?

It’s easy for a Warriors’ fan to take Durant’s side. He doesn’t have much of a reputation for being emotional or stubborn, and those are pretty much the first two words anyone uses to describe his former teammate. By contrast, Westbrook’s more candid moments on camera have certainly come off as childish. He admonished Enes Kanter for even acknowledging Durant during a game in Oakland last month, and he quipped, “thank you, Kyrie!” after the refs Cleveland Cavaliers won the Christmas Day game against the Dubs.

But there’s reason to question this narrative. For one, Westbrook isn’t known to be a liar. Passionate and hot headed, sure. But his steadfast claim that the two are not on speaking terms is awfully hard to lie about — people can easily refute that. From the beginning, Durant has said that he and Westbrook are fine, despite the fact that they reportedly have never spoken voice-to-voice following the deal, according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes.

Now, Durant has dropped back to a more defensive posture, declining to go into great detail about their off-court relationship. Recently, he has begun to insist that the drama is all conjured by the media. And, for once, I’m not willing to agree.

Personal opinion and tea-leaf reading begins here:

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had a rocky relationship, and Westbrook was too obtuse to recognize it. His game only plays at one speed, and his refusal to adjust from his high speed, damn-the-consequences attack mode is both his most commendable quality and his fatal flaw. Durant tired of it — as many reasonable players might in the same circumstance — but he consistently put up a strong public face. This led to years of media narratives about Westbrook and Durant being inseparable, although there was never any indication that this was the case. The additional media reinforcement might have made this separation sting even more. At minimum, it certainly didn’t help matters.

Westbrook, ever the quintessential alpha personality, took everything he heard from Durant at face value. He sincerely believed that theirs was a partnership that would last, and thrive. At the 11th hour, he plead to Durant to stay in Oklahoma City, going so far to offer to change his playing style to better suit Durant’s game. His willingness to offer something that he could not possibly provide underscores his naiveté as well as the sincerity of his intentions. Westbrook is hurt, and with good reason.

We have no reason to think Durant is a malicious person, but we might suspect that he could’ve handled this separation better. Westbrook doesn’t sound like the type who will take a pleasant phone call after he finds out he’s been scorned via open letter. Durant needed to relay the message to Westbrook first, and not by text. And if he was wise enough to downplay the beef publicly, he had to be smart enough to know that dismissing the beef would only infuriate Westbrook even more.

The fact that he joined the 73-win super team would’ve left many people upset with Durant, regardless. And, without question, he’d still be facing an extremely hostile road crowd on Saturday, no matter what — nice try, KD! But we know time heals all wounds, since hardly anyone even mentions LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the same breath nowadays.

But, at the very least, we’d know — Kevin Durant would know — that when making a decision he felt he needed to make, he did everything in his power to make that decision the right way. Instead, Warriors’ star Durant will need to live with the consequences for the rest of his career, starting Saturday night in Oklahoma City.