RIO DE JANEIRO – Kevin Durant left behind Oklahoma City a month ago, but he hasn’t really been able to fully escape his former home – even after having his introductory news conference with the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, even after playing his first game at Oracle Arena since the move with USA across his chest, and even after he left the country to try to lead the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team to a gold medal in Brazil.
Already, Durant has had to shoot down rumors that frustration with Russell Westbrook prompted his departure in free agency, and that he informed Westbrook and Nick Collison of his plans to stay with the Thunder. And on the day Team USA met with reporters for the first time since arriving in Rio de Janeiro, Durant was again asked about Westbrook’s decision to renegotiate a three-year contract worth $85 million that will keep his former running mate with the Thunder for at least one more year beyond next season.
“I’m happy to see any player in this league do whatever they want to do,” Durant said. “As long as he wasn’t pressured to do anything and felt like he did everything he wanted to do. And that’s how I feel about every player in this league. It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City that love to watch him play and love to have him on their team.
“I got nothing but positive energy and vibes for everybody. I don’t have no beef with anybody or wish no ill will on anybody. So if he did what he wanted to do, that’s better. That’s great for him.”
Westbrook’s decision to remain with the Thunder and give the organization the chance to build a contender around him has made the electrifying point guard more beloved in a small market devastated by Durant’s exit. Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett declared Thursday “Russell Westbrook Day” and hundreds of fans gathered outside Chesapeake Energy Arena to celebrate his commitment to the franchise.
Durant would prefer to look ahead – on the task at hand in his second Olympics and what will eventually await him when he finally gets settled with the Warriors – but he knows he won’t be able to avoid questions about the only franchise for which he has played, and his teammate for the previous eight seasons, any time soon. Aside from a text message to inform him of his decision, Durant hasn’t had a chance to actually sit down with Westbrook to discuss the situation. He’s not certain when, or if, that day will eventually come.
“That’s a touchy deal. I don’t know,” Durant said. “It’s easy for someone else to tell me what I should do, but you guys don’t know how that whole thing [went down]. I don’t know, man. I’ll see after this is over and once everything dies down. Like I said before, at some point we’ll sit down and talk. But I don’t know when.”
By deciding to chase a gold medal the same summer in which he made a controversial and potentially league-altering move to form a super team with the Warriors, Durant has opened himself up to questions that he could’ve otherwise avoided until training camp. But he has grown to appreciate sharing his feelings, without allowing others to formulate opinions devoid of his voice.
“I think that probably was the best thing,” Durant said. “I waited all summer to get what I wanted to say off my chest. Now, it felt like saying it a few weeks ago, how everything went down – I’m still answering those questions now. It makes it a little easier going into the season, even though it’s going to ramp up once the season starts. Getting my voice out and letting people know how I feel – either way, they probably don’t care – but just getting it out, I think, it’s been a little easier.”
While he respects Westbrook for staying, Durant has no regrets about joining the Warriors.
“I felt good when I made the decision. It’s just the outside noise that I just kept hearing, kept getting louder and louder. It was hard to ignore it. And it’s hard to shut it off,” Durant said. “But as time goes on, things get better. It’s still a little different to me. … I haven’t settled down in the Bay yet. I haven’t been around my teammates yet. So all that stuff, I’m still trying to figure out how to make it work and how new it’s going to be. It’s basketball at the end of the day. I can mesh with anybody. And I can play any game. And I can fit into any system. So it’s just a matter of me going out there and getting used to it.”