Trouble is brewing on the plains of Oklahoma, the sort of trouble that could level the NBA's next great dynasty before it ever so much as reaches the throne.
It all began in the second quarter, when Westbrook lashed out at teammate Thabo Sefolosha for not shooting a wide-open three-pointer.
Durant allegedly found Westy's emotional outburst to be something of an overreaction to the play, botched as it may have been by Sefolosha, and let his point guard know as much.
Durant tried to calm Westbrook down, but the situation only escalated, to the point that the two young stars had to be separated and sat down at opposite ends of the bench.
Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, with Durant and Westbrook leading OKC to victory while appearing to have smoothed things over between themselves.
Westbrook wasn't available for comment after the game, but the Durantula spoke on the matter, chalking the incident up to competitive disagreement and the heat of the moment rather than all-out, Kobe-vs.-Shaq-style animosity:
“We’re going to disagree sometimes, like I’ve always been saying,” Durant said. “But I’m behind him 110 percent, and he’s the same way with me. And you seen when we came on the floor, we clicked and everything started to work from there.”
Disagreements are to be expected in a cooperative endeavor like NBA basketball, especially on a young team with the potential and expectation to be great, not to mention the intense pressure to perform that comes with that spotlight.
The Thunder have widely been tabbed as the favorite to win the Western Conference and challenge for an NBA title in just their fourth season since leaving Seattle and the SuperSonics nickname behind.
Their rise from ashes has been nothing short of phoenician, though even the good times had by a young team can and often do fall victim to the butting of heads between stars.
The Dallas Mavericks were held back by clashes of talented titans during the mid-1990s. The franchise appeared headed for much greener pastures behind the stellar efforts of the Three J's—Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson—who lifted the Mavs to a 23-win improvement during the 1994-95 season.
Unfortunately, injuries, expectations and the flaring of tempers resulted in significant regression the very next year, and by the end of the 1996-97 season, Kidd, Mashburn and Jackson were no longer in Big D.
Of course, Westbrook and Durant aren't exactly the Three J's. The former duo, unlike the latter trio, has been together for longer, has been to the playoffs, has improved significantly each season and has yet to see its success derailed by injuries.
But the cautionary tale of the Three J's remains (or should) somewhere in the near recesses. The question for OKC is not if there will be adversity or if its dynamic duo will come close to exchanging blows again, but rather how the two players in question, along with their teammates and the coaching staff, handle the occasional flaring of tempers from here on out.
Creative and competitive tension can be and often is a good thing, but it must be dealt with and channeled properly and with great care.
Otherwise, that tension could just as easily tear the team apart, long before this precocious pack ever lifts a single banner.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!