Did something happen between Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook?
We don't know.
But if there is some sort of rift between the Thunder's starting point guard and center, as one report recently suggested, the two must be awfully good actors.
From the time Perkins joined the Thunder in late February, he and Westbrook took turns sticking up for the other. By the end of the season, it had become clear that the team's two biggest targets for criticism had developed, if nothing else, a mutual respect.
When Westbrook's shot selection and decision making came under fire throughout the playoffs, it was Perkins who spoke loudest as Westbrook's biggest defender. Moments after the Thunder's season-ending Game 5 loss to Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, it was Perkins who faced reporters and praised Westbrook for how poised he had remained in the face of national scrutiny.
Yet a report in the New York Daily News claimed that there is tension between Perkins and Westbrook, as well as coach Scott Brooks and general manager Sam Presti.
“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,” the report started.
“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.”
Surely at some point, all four men will be asked about the report. Each is likely to shoot it down. And when they do, each will have a credible counter. Because not once last season did Westbrook and Perkins, or Brooks and Presti, show any resentment toward each other in public.
Presti has a reputation for being hands-on. But he also prides himself on putting the right people in the right places and allowing them to do their job. Presti's insistence on butting out is seen most in his relationship with his coach. Whenever Presti was asked about an on-court matter last season, his response was always the same: basketball decisions are left up to Brooks.
Potential evidence that it wasn't just lip service is the case of James Harden. Presti hand-picked Harden as the No. 3 overall selection in 2009. Brooks, however, stayed with Thabo Sefolosha as the starting shooting guard last season despite Presti being a big proponent of Harden. In 28 games after the All-Star break, Harden still averaged only 28.5 minutes.
Presti also rarely was seen by the team's beat writers in the locker room. In fact, it became common to see Presti intentionally detour around the dressing area whenever he was needed in the locker room, which also houses the training room.
As for Westbrook and Perkins, no one could characterize them as bosom buddies inside the locker room. But Perkins' locker is stationed across the room from Westbrook's. That never stops Westbrook and Eric Maynor from volleying jabs. But Perkins, the no-nonsense center, always was all business the moment he stepped foot into the locker room. Westbrook, meanwhile, never shied away from crediting Perkins for the team's defensive turnaround in the second half last year.
On the court, Perkins and Westbrook had occasional disagreements. One of the more memorable happened in mid-March against Charlotte when Perkins appeared to chew out Westbrook following one possession of poor defense. But those were viewed more as routine spats.
Was there something more?
Kevin Durant admitted in a recent interview with SI.com that an argument of some kind did indeed transpire. But he classified it as normal, so much so that he said he had forgotten it happened. He then said “everybody enjoys each other's company,” and added those disagreements will only make the team better.
“We're going to always have arguments, but it's nothing to the point of where guys are going to walk out of that locker room and say, ‘Nah, I don't like him,'” Durant said. “We're all going to get it together and we're all going to figure it out right on the spot. That's what happens in a group. That's what makes a group great.”