Russell Westbrook insisted there is no animosity between himself and former teammate Kevin Durant as the former MVPs prepare to face one another in the NBA playoffs.
Durant and Westbrook starred together on the Oklahoma City Thunder for eight seasons between 2008 and 2016, after the duo were drafted in successive seasons by the Western Conference franchise. They led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012 only to fall to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
However, Durant unceremoniously turned his back on the Thunder and signed with the juggernaut Golden State Warriors ahead of the 2016/17 season. His decision was heavily criticised from all angles while a wedge was seemingly planted between the two former teammates.
Westbrook won an MVP award in 2017 but Durant finished the year on top, hoisting the NBA championship as well as the Finals MVP award – and he would do the same the following season. Westbrook has since become something of a journeyman, bouncing around the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers and now the Clippers.
However, Durant’s everlasting powers means he is still considered one of the best players the NBA, even after leaving the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets. Now with the Phoenix Suns, the 34-year-old is set to clash with Westbrook’s Clippers in the first round of the playoffs – and the guard declared the pair are on good terms.
“It’ll be normal for me,” Westbrook told reporters with a smile. “I think people still think there’s some beef or something. There’s no beef. It’s a good narrative for the media but there’s no beef.
“I got nothing but respect for him and things he’s done with his career. Happy to see him back from injury. He knows I’m going to compete and I know he’s going to compete, and that’s all it is.”
In eight years as teammates, Durant and Westbrook combined to win 10 playoff series while the guard assisted the 2014 MVP on 1,465 occasions – which, according to ESPN, is the most by any duo across that span, with no other pair reaching 1,000. Durant clearly respects his former teammate’s game and looks forward to the series.
“I think Russ is competitive against any player he plays against,” Durant said. “I don’t think it was just specific to me. I think a lot of the fans and the people that were watching, it was high-intensity for them, it was entertainment for them.
“For us players, it’s just another game, it’s regularly scheduled programming, but Russ is that way. I’ve played with him for so long and watched him for so long, he was that way against everybody, so I don’t expect anything different.”
In 11 showdowns since Durant departed the Thunder, Westbrook holds a 6-5 regular season record against the 13-time All-Star. Ultimately, Westbrook will need to step up for the Clippers if they are to defeat the Suns, whose starting five – which includes Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton – is backed by many to reach and win the 2023 NBA Finals. The Suns and Clippers will begin their anticipated first-round series at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Sunday night.