How could Durant leave Westbrook?
But maybe Durant left in part because of Westbrook.
Their partnership produced four conference finals appearances, and one trip to the Finals, in the last six years. It also produced a simmering frustration that, in essence, paved the way for his exit.
Durant wanted an offense that kept the ball moving and provided him easier scoring chances. The Thunder fired coach Scott Brooks, brought in Billy Donovan, and still the offense stalled out at key moments, often with Westbrook dribbling into oblivion. The Thunder led the NBA in blown fourth-quarter leads last season, despite their firepower.
“Ultimately he got frustrated and felt that they had plateaued,” said a person with insight into Durant’s thought process. “[Donovan] came in,and he still had the same issues that he had with Russ under Scotty. The offense didn’t change much. He still had to take a ton of contested shots every game; and that’s when he had the ball at all.”
But so were their frequent frustrations with each other on the court.
That’s not an indictment of either. Durant’s passivity contributed to Westbrook’s ball-dominance, not that Westbrook needed much provoking. There’s always compromise necessary when multiple great scorers partner. The successful teams just find the appropriate balance.
The Thunder didn’t, though they came close, and I think they still could’ve gotten there. All the way until their playoff run ended against Golden State, Durant and Westbrook continued to develop better chemistry.
But nothing was guaranteed, and at minimum, Durant didn’t like the odds. (Saying Oklahoma City plateaued seems like hyperbole from someone trying to frame Durant’s decision a certain way.)
Likewise, nothing is guaranteed with the Warriors. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson jack quick shots all the time. Draymond Green handles the ball a lot as a primary playmaker. Rather than sharing the ball with one other star, Durant will deal with three.
Golden State emphasizes ball movement culturally, and Durant will get plenty of touches. But there will be an adjustment period. If he’s expecting basketball nirvana instantly now that he’s away from Westbrook, Durant will be in for a rude awakening.
That said, the Warriors definitely present a better chance than playing with Westbrook would’ve of an equilibrium that pleases Durant.