After Kevin Durant signed with Golden State, Thunder general manager Sam Presti revealed that the team had “a pretty good indication” that Durant would leave. In other words, Presti was disappointed with the outcome, but not surprised by it.
Thunder fans, sadly, cannot say the same.
“I think the surprise was much bigger amongst fans and people in this area,” The Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “People on the inside closer to the situation had a little more time to wrap their head around it. Sam Presti (said) that Durant and his team called the Thunder brass a few minutes before Durant’s decision became official. So they knew it, and in listening to Sam Presti, it was a reality that he and the other team executives and representatives had kind of already wrapped their heads around. I don’t know if they sensed it earlier. We didn’t really get any indication on that.
“But when you look at what Kevin Durant has said and done publicly both in the short-term and in the longer term looking back in his eight years in Oklahoma City, there really weren’t a whole lot of indications that this was going to be the outcome,” Carlson continued. “Durant would refer to Oklahoma and Oklahoma City as home, would always say nice things about the city, about the franchise, about his intention to want to have a statue built here (and have his) jersey retired here. There was sort of that sense of, ‘I want to retire here.’ Obviously that wasn’t the case at the end of the day, and I think the surprise was high because of that.”
Many Thunder fans feel duped by Durant, who wears his loyalty on his sleeve when it comes to, for example, the University of Texas. He also performed a lot of goodwill for Oklahoma City.
But looking back, there were clues that a departure like this could happen.
“I think we probably saw a lot of what we wanted to see,” Carlson said. “There was sort of this loyalty narrative that kept building and building, and you thought that was who he was. But I think in doing that, we might have overlooked the fact that this was a guy that played for three high school teams. He’s on his third agent in his NBA career. So while the loyalty string was playing out, there might have been these other things that we weren’t as attuned to when it came to (his past). This is a guy that has not been afraid to change scenery, to change the people around him.”
Which is one reason why Carlson doesn’t think Westbrook should receive much blame, if any, for Durant’s decision.
“It feels hollow at this point,” she said. “I feel like it’s a little bit of story planting to try to make Westbrook out to be the fall guy by Durant’s camp. Durant has had this good-guy persona. He hasn’t sort of played any villain part, but now he leaves Oklahoma City and was getting a lot of flak for that both locally and nationally. Here’s a guy that says I don’t want to have to carry so big of a load, and I’m going to go and be part of this team where I don’t have to carry so big of a load. That’s cool. If that’s what he wants to do, that’s fine, but it just felt a little bit forced. He’s the face of the franchise. He takes as much direction as he wants to take. I don’t think anybody was stopping him from being whatever he wanted to be or getting as much as he wanted to get. I know Russell Westbrook has the ball in his hands a lot, but if Durant decides that he wants something, I don’t think anybody was stopping him.
“So to me, I just don’t buy it,” Carlson continued. “These guys, they played a different style, yes. They play a different style than San Antonio, than Golden State. Not as much free-flowing offense. And so, if that’s want Durant wanted, maybe that wasn’t going to happen here. Maybe that’s what he started to realize, and that’s okay if he wanted to play somewhere else. But (blaming Westbrook) seems a little bit forced.”