When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook received their 2012-13 NBA schedule, you knew they had to have circled Friday, Dec. 7.
That was the date the Oklahoma City Thunder would first host the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant, a player from whom they had endured relentless smack talk during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Bryant reportedly told the pair of OKC superstars that they wouldn’t make the NBA Finals after L.A. acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. He continually trash-talked his fellow Olympians before the gold-medal matchup with Spain.
While this would be enough to infuriate most players in the league and give them plenty of incentive to bring their A-games against Kobe, the Black Mamba didn’t stop there.
According to ESPN’s Ric Bucher, the calculating guard decided to try to disrupt the chemistry between the two stars and attempted to get into Westbrook’s head in order to accomplish this nefarious goal:
Kobe made a point of guarding Westbrook during practices and pumping him up, the theory being that he wanted to incite Russ to bump heads with KD over who the team's best player is.
Many who have followed the strange relationship between Westbrook and Durant know that the two are always buddy-buddy off the court, but their play styles tend to clash on the hardwood.
There are times when Westbrook is absolutely brilliant, penetrating the lane like no other point guard in the league and doing things that seem absolutely impossible. And then there is the reckless, out-of-control, want-to-be-hero Westbrook—a player who takes far too many ill-begotten shots and keeps his head down on drives.
When the latter version of the 24-year-old guard is on the court, the Thunder struggle mightily, which is what Bryant obviously recognized and wanted to see more of, especially at the cost of Durant’s touches and perceived leadership.
Many believe that KD is almost too laid back in regard to his touches, even though he’s the most consistently excellent player on his team and perhaps the best pure scorer in the game today. He gets the ball because his teammates, including Westbrook, recognize this fact and know Durant puts them in the best position to win.
If Westbrook were to start believing that he should be the main option and crunch-time scorer, the tenuous chemistry that the Thunder have cultivated would be ruined, which would delight one Kobe Bean Bryant to no end.
However, if anything, the Mamba ended up strengthening the bond between Westbrook and Durant, as the pair went off for a combined 69 points on Friday night, helping the Thunder to a 114-108 win over the Lakers.
Westbrook seemed especially fired up, scoring 27 of his 33 points in the first half, helping build what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. Durant closed L.A. out with clutch foul shots to reach 36 points and once again proved the Thunder have a recipe for success against the West’s best.
Instead of attempting to undermine other teams in the league, Bryant needs to work on building chemistry within his own organization.
The Lakers are now two games under .500 (9-11, compared to OKC at 16-4) and have a slew of head-scratching problems to deal with, including Nash’s injury, Howard’s free throws, Pau Gasol’s ineffectiveness and the razor-thin bench.
As of now, we certainly expect to see the Thunder back in the NBA Finals this season, meaning the Mamba did quite a poor job inciting a rebellion.