A lot was made of the supposed bubbling conflict on the tight-knit Thunder last season. Everyone got all huffy when Russell Westbrook took a bunch of shots and kind of just assumed that it made Kevin Durant real mad.
But the Thunder’s well-known chemistry was put to the test well before that. Not only did the trade that sent Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins send one of their closest friends to another team — Green called his fellow Thunder players his brothers — but evidently there were a few hiccups with Perk when he got to town too. Via the New York Daily News, which admittedly, is a pretty weird source for this, but here it is:
As much as coach Scott Brooks chafes at GM Sam Presti’s meddling, his presence in the locker room, and his demands that the Thunder continue to improve from within, the organization is a lot more concerned with how Kendrick Perkins treats Russell Westbrook.
After arriving from the Celtics last season and being looked at as the veteran leader Oklahoma City needed to take the next step to compete for a title, Perkins went hard at Westbrook with his verbal criticisms, often saying that the Thunder’s playmaker couldn’t match Rajon Rondo as a playmaker. Those words didn’t sit well with Westbrook, who already had been criticized for shooting too much and was the subject of a benching heard-round-the-NBA when the Thunder played the Mavs in June.
(The writer, Mitch Lawrence, was also the one who reported that a Thunder veteran said that Westbrook thinks he’s better than Durant. Also, I guess he’s got someone telling him about a little friction between the Thunder’s front office and Scott Brooks. I don’t really know how accurate that is, but that’s twice it’s been mentioned.)
There’s no doubt Perkins let people hear his voice early and often when he got to Oklahoma City. Everyone talked about what a vocal leader he was as soon as he stepped off the plane and that he led by keeping everyone accountable. A lot of players appreciated that approach, most notably Serge Ibaka who blossomed alongside Perkins.
But Westbrook, as he admits himself, is an emotional player that has a chip so big on his shoulder that it’s more like a chunk. So when (or if) the new guy comes strolling in with his big mean scowl and starts barking at him over a turnover, I’m sure he wasn’t a fan. I remember a game early on where Perk was talking to Westbrook on the bench during a timeout and Westbrook very clearly tuned him out. There was another time where I remember Westbrook responding and there was a mini-argument on the bench.
Is it a big deal? Not really, as long as you win. Chemistry is a great thing and the Thunder had it as well as anyone with Jeff Green. But that wasn’t enough for the Thunder to win. They needed that big presence in the middle. They needed the defensive accountability that Perk brought. If that means they don’t always get along, so be it. Sometimes you don’t like your teammates. Sometimes you really don’t like your teammates. You think Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant have always gotten along? What matters most is playing well and winning together.
Now what you run the risk of is when things start going bad and the team starts losing, that little tiff can turn into a time bomb that blows up in everyone’s face. When you have a locker room that’s not getting along, a team can survive as long as it’s playing well. When it doesn’t, then fingers start getting point and people start getting angry. Of course that would be if there is an actual upset of feelings within the Thunder with Westbrook and Perk. It’s very likely this is nothing more than just a little misunderstanding. I never personally saw anything that would make me think that the team — or Westbrook and Perk specifically — weren’t getting along.
A concerning trend could be starting up though. Perk seems to be popular with everyone and if he’s clashing with Westbrook combined with all the other noise, it could just be another issue with the hot-headed point guard. Hard not to notice that Westbrook often seems to be on an island while everyone else is pretty tight knit on and off the court. Then again, we don’t see everything.
I guess it’s just one more thing to talk about with the Thunder though. So be it.