“He's a dog,” Durant said of Westbrook. “You got to let the dog off the leash sometimes and go play. And that's the guy you got to let off the leash.”
Durant and the Thunder are confident that the All-Star duo won't skip a beat. They've appeared in more than 400 games together and shared the court for another 45 postseason contests.
“We've been playing together for so long,” Durant said. “You guys must forget. We played six years together, and it's (30) games that he's missed. I mean, out of six years that's not a lot. So we shouldn't have to talk about anything.
“You just got to let him go out there and be him. He has great intentions. He's a team-first guy so it's going to work. I'm excited to have him back. I know he's excited to play again.”
For his part, Durant says he's willing to do whatever it takes to win. It'll be an interesting approach to watch play out given that much of the past criticism on Durant included a desire to see him embrace the alpha dog role. Now, not only does he sound willing to relinquish whatever mentality he's adopted, he also seems comfortable and ready to embrace the potential change.
“Playing on a team is about giving yourself up for the betterment of the group, for team success,” Durant said. “Whether coach wants me to sit in the corner and let Russ create, I'm willing to do that. I want to do that. If it's going out to make everybody else better, I'm willing to do that.
“When you talk about making your teammates better, it's not always just making a pass and being an assist guy. It's about giving yourself up, being a decoy sometimes, playing as hard as you can and inspiring your teammates. That's how I look at making your teammates better, much more than just passing them the basketball.”
While the world watches to see how it unfolds, the Thunder is holding onto a quiet confidence that Westbrook's return means the team can only get better. Players, coaches and front office executives all remember the hurting the Thunder put on New York on Christmas Day. It was Westbrook's last game. He had a triple-double, Durant scored 29 and OKC rolled.
That performance is now viewed as the team's baseline level of performance.
No one has any illusions about the time it will for this group to reach its full potential. But welcoming back one of the most explosive players in the world is the first step, one that, oddly enough, comes on the day of the league's trading deadline.
“It's like trading for an All-Star,” Durant said.