According to ESPN.com's Royce Young on ESPN's TrueHoop podcast (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman), Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was under the impression Durant would return to the Thunder following a conversation they had prior to the four-time scoring champion's sit-downs with prospective employers:
Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant's sitting there at dinner, telling him "Hey, I'm coming back, man. Don't worry about it." And now, Russell Westbrook has been kind of thrown into this in having to decide his future a summer earlier than expected.
Kevin Durant, more so than even that, was telling people, "Hey, yeah, I mean I'm coming back." Like I said in there, a week before Kevin Durant sat down in the Hamptons, he was in Oklahoma City ready to make an offer on a multi-million-dollar house. So, the guy was pretty serious about coming back, and then things turned rather quickly for him to leave. And there's no doubt that the organization felt a little bit burned by this.
On Tuesday, Young reported Westbrook was "both angry and hurt not only by Durant's decision to leave but also because Durant didn't even call to tell him personally."
Young added that the floor general "thought Durant was coming back" after they had dinner with Thunder forward Nick Collison in Los Angeles shortly before Durant took meetings in the Hamptons.
However, on Wednesday, Durant told Shams Charania of The Vertical that the report wasn't true:
It’s false. I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.
I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.
Young responded to a fan on Twitter, clarifying his report:
Young further clarified on Wednesday:
In a TrueHoop podcast on Tuesday, I misspoke in saying that Durant specifically told Westbrook he was coming back.
On the podcast I said, "Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant's sitting there at dinner, telling [Westbrook], 'Hey I’m coming back, man. Don't worry about it.' And now Russell Westbrook's kinda been thrown into this in having to decide his future a summer earlier than expected."
These were not direct quotes meant to be attributed to Durant. It was an attempt to characterize what Westbrook thought his situation was going to be in Oklahoma City and how Durant's leaving impacts his thinking about his future.
While the two stars may not be on the best terms following Durant's departure, Westbrook and the Thunder have bigger things to worry about as the 2016-17 season approaches.
Westbrook has just one year remaining on his contract and, like Durant before him, could bolt in free agency if he is enticed by a new locale next summer.
That means the Thunder could entertain trade offers for their franchise cornerstone before the February trade deadline if they want to hedge their bets against a potential departure. However, Young reported Tuesday that neither OKC nor Westbrook is intent on a trade at this point.
But if Westbrook does eventually lean toward writing the next chapter of his career elsewhere, he will reportedly operate differently than Durant did over the past year.
"And with Durant now gone, Westbrook understands the gravity of his own choice—he leaves, and the organization burns to the ground in a summer," Young wrote. "So he wants to give them clarity to either move on with or without him."
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Young added the Thunder "really want" a commitment from Westbrook in the form of a renegotiated contract extension and that "there's a growing belief Westbrook will think heavily about an extension but will first weigh every angle before doing it."
At this point, the Thunder need to put the full-court press on Westbrook when it comes to keeping the fourth overall pick from 2008.
Although they could conceivably fetch a king's ransom from a team that is looking to gamble on a one-year Westbrook rental, the star point guard has the talent to keep OKC in striking distance of the Western Conference's top tier for years to come if the Thunder can surround him with strong complementary pieces.
Given the degree to which Westbrook prospered when Durant was hurt during the 2014-15 season, the Thunder should feel good about their long-term prospects if they avoid a total rebuild and keep one of the league's most electric players in the fold.