NBA All-Star Game Brings Plenty Of Storylines, None Bigger Than Durant, Westbrook Saga
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // February 19, 2017
Bleacher Report NBA Writer, Dan Favale interview included
ABOVE VIDEO: Warriors vs. Thunder – highlights Feb 11, 2017
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – The 66th annual NBA All-Star game takes place tonight in New Orleans and while the game is always electric on the court with highlight reel dunks, no-look passes and long range shots, the story lines are equally electric off the court entering tip-off tonight.
Storylines such as how will LeBron and Shaq get along, can a team score 200 points after the West All-Stars scored 196 last year but the biggest storyline revolves around eight-time Golden State Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant and his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook.
The well documented saga of Durant leaving OKC last summer for the Golden State Warriors and a chance to win as close to a guaranteed championship as there is in sports is familiar to even the casual NBA fan.
With an average margin of victory of 24-points in three games this seaon, Durant’s Warriors have gone 3-0 vs his former team.
While the games have been anticlimactic, the sparring, trash talking and reception Durant received on his first trip back to OKC one week ago, has been the real story.
Durant was forced to hire personal security for his return trip and Warrior’s head coach Steve Kerr said, “The pregame festivities felt like a Finals game.”
The escalating feud between Durant and Westbrook began the day Durant made his announcement he was heading to Golden State on July 4, 2016.
Westbrook posted a photo on Instagram of miniature cupcakes, a term teammate Kendrick Perkins used to use when he thought the Thunder were playing soft when Durant was a member of OKC.
A Westbrook commercial followed a few weeks later promoting his new Jordan brand shoe and at the end proclaimed, “ Some run, some make runways”, a clear reference to Durant’s departure to northern California.
Durant fired back in an article published in the October 11, 2016 issue of Rolling Stone magazine when he tempered fans thoughts of what they thought their relationship was by stating, “We had our own cliques that we hung with on the road. Russell had his guys, I had mine. It was never a bad thing. Just how it was.”
“Work friends” is how the writer described the comments and the feud escalated. Social media posts and a comment here and there came to a head last Saturday night in OKC.
The fans wearing “Cup-Cake” tee shirts and chanting the dessert at Durant with deafening clarity added to the night between the two on the court.
Teammates and coaches described the encounter as an ugly, difficult night. There was a push by Westbrook on Durant and some jawing during a timeout in which Westbrooks hollered at Durant, “I’m coming”. Durnat’s reply, “So what”.
ABOVE AUDIO: Alan Zlotorzynski of Space Coast Daily interviews Dan Favale, who covers the NBA for the Bleacher Report and is Deputy Editor for NBA Math. The guys discuss the first half of the season and the what’s wrong with the Orlando Magic.
Durant called the on-court clash between the two in Oklahoma City “all in the game, trash talking and physical play.”
The two will be teammates once again tonight and West All-Star head coach Steve Kerr says he hasn’t even thought about the game in terms of playing the two at the same time, as untrue of a statement as we’ve heard since the left proclaimed Donald Trump wouldn’t be President.
Westbrook is the two-time reigning All-Star game MVP, the only player to ever accomplish the feat.
Winning a third would mean outplaying Durant in the contest.
And if Durant, who owns highest scoring average in All-Star Game history at 25.6 points per game, wants to send the latest blow, outplaying Westbrook and capturing the award himself would certainly accomplish that.
When asked what it will be like to have Durant as a teammate again at the All-Star Game, Westbrook didn’t offer any answers. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to find out.”
There is recent history of All-Star game drama between former teammates. Like Durant and Westbrook, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were teammates for eight years until the Lakers were forced to choose one and selected Bryant.
Shaq wasn’t as quiet about his exit as Durant, asking Kobe Bryant how his backside tasted during a freestyle rap performance.
O’Neal went on to win another championship with 2005-06 Miami Heat and Bryant’s Lakers would eventually make it back to the promise land winning back-to-back titles in 2009 & 2010.
The on-court reunion between Shaq and Kobe occurred at the 2009 All-Star game. The 2009 game was played at US Airways Center in Phoenix, home of the Suns and the team Shaq was representing.
O’Neal’s 15th and final ASG appearance during his illustrious career was memorable for the re-union and Shaq’s performance.
While Kobe finished with a game high 27-points, Shaq was the West’s third leading scorer with 17-points and both were named co-MVP’s of the game.
Following the game, the two laughed and hugged. O’Neal insisted that Bryant keep the MVP trophy, but Kobe instead gave it to O’Neal’s son.
Durant and Westbrook’s situation is apples and oranges to Shaq and Kobe’s.
Shaq and Kobe were at the ends of Hall of Fame careers, and had combined to win nine NBA titles, three playing together with the Lakers.
While Durant and Westbrook played for a title as teammates, losing in five games to the Miami Heat in 2012, neither own a ring.
Hard to believe when you consider that Westbrook and Durant, as well as fellow NBA superstar and Houston Rocket, James Harden once played together for the Thunder.
Odds makers say that is likely to change for Durant, whose Warriors are 47-9 and seven games better than the East’s best team, the defending champion Cavaliers at the ASG break.
Averaging a triple-double (10 R, 10 A, 31 Pts) through 57 games, and leading the league in scoring with 31 points a night, Westbrook is on pace to win the league’s MVP Award.
But Durant has one of those, winning the honor in 2014, delivering a heartfelt tear filled thank you speech as Westbrook and his teammates watch in the room.
Whatever happens Sunday night, one thing is for sure, having electricity off the floor only adds to the electricity we will see on it Sunday night.
ALL-STAR GAME NOTES:
- New Orleans is hosting the NBA All-Star for the third time. The Crescent City was also the site of the league’s annual mid season celebration in 2008 and 2014.
- The 66th NBA All-Star Game will reach fans in 215 countries and territories and will be heard in 49 languages.
- Five second-round draft picks were selected for the All-Star Game: Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), DeAndre Jordan (LA Clippers), Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks) and Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics). This marks the first time that at least five AllStars were either undrafted or drafted in the second round or later since the 1989 All-Star Game.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James is the top scorer in All-Star Game history with 291 points.
- The Kia NBA All-Star MVPs from the previous two All-Star Games in New Orleans will both start for the East this year: teammates LeBron James (2008 MVP) and Kyrie Irving (2014 MVP)
- The Golden State Warriors have matched an NBA record with four All-Star selections: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
- The Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol is the first player in franchise history to be selected to three NBA All-Star Games (2012, 2015 and 2017).
- Isaiah Thomas is averaging 29.8 points per game this season (second in the NBA), which is just shy of the Boston Celtics’ single-season record of 29.9 ppg set by Larry Bird in 1987-88.
- All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George scored 41 points in the 2015 and 2016 All-Star Games, respectively, one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42 points set in 1962.
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