BY ANN KILLIAN
San Francisco Chronicle
Feb. 16, 2017
It’s not often that you get an All-Star Game with actual, real-life drama. Usually these exhibitions are simply back-slapping celebrity photo-ops that happen to include a ball or a puck.
But we’ve got some actual drama on tap this weekend in New Orleans.
It comes courtesy of the Warriors and Kevin Durant. They’ve been the biggest story of the NBA season, so why not at the All-Star Game, too?
Durant and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook will be reunited as teammates this weekend, both members of the Western Conference All-Star team.
That might not be such a big deal except that the All-Star Game comes just one week after the emotional, intense night in Oklahoma City. During Durant’s first return to his former home city, the animosity between him and Westbrook seemed very real, bubbling onto the court. His coach and teammates described it as an ugly, difficult night.
Naturally, everyone is downplaying the All-Star get-together. Including Steve Kerr, who will coach the West team.
“Honestly, I haven’t given it one bit of thought,” Kerr said of having Westbrook and Durant on the same team. “Coaching the All-Star Game is kind of an oxymoron, anyway.”
True, there’s not much coaching involved — but Kerr has control over which players are on the court at the same time.
“That’s a good point,” he acknowledged. “That will be up to me. Rotation patterns are kind of the one thing you get to do.”
Kerr declined to say whether he would play the two men together. We know they won’t be on the court together at the start of the game because Westbrook — despite leading the league in scoring and recording 27 triple-doubles this season — wasn’t voted in as a starter.
Westbrook is the two-time reigning MVP of the All-Star Game. So, yes, he might be slightly motivated. Especially considering that Durant was named a starter and that four of Westbrook’s All-Star teammates are Warriors, the team that has beaten his Thunder three straight times this season.
Kerr almost certainly will play Durant and Westbrook together. Kerr, a former broadcaster who enjoys the spectacle of his league, knows better than almost any coach that he is in the business of entertainment. And what could be more entertaining?
Would Kerr initiate a meeting between the two, knowing that easing the tensions might be beneficial to Durant, who has been made out to be the villain of the situation?
Kerr addressed that issue on his radio show this week.
“I’m definitely not calling for a summit,” he joked on 95.7 FM. “We’re all on the the same team, in the same locker room and we’ll see how it plays out. We’re just going into it looking for fun.”
Playing Durant and Westbrook together would be fun. Perhaps the most anticipated on-court reunion since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were back together as teammates on the West team in the 2009 All-Star Game, many years after their feud began.
It’s unclear how much of a feud Durant and Westbrook have. Neither has asked the other how his backside tastes, as O’Neal famously asked Bryant after he left the Lakers. But there has not been any verbal communication between the two since Durant departed Oklahoma City, informing Westbrook of his decision via text.
“I haven’t talked to him,” Durant said again after Saturday’s game.
Durant called the on-court sniping between the two in Oklahoma City “all in the game, trash talking and physical play.”
When asked what it will be like to have Durant as a teammate again at the All-Star Game, Westbrook didn’t offer any answers.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to find out.”
The men were teammates for eight years. They called each other brothers, came to news conferences together and helped build a team side-by-side. There’s a lot of real emotion and discomfort in the divorce, and though it might be motivating in on-court meetings, it also might be healthy to set it aside.
Could that happen in New Orleans this weekend?
At the end of that 2009 All-Star Game, Bryant and O’Neal were named co-MVPs and they laughed and hugged each other. O’Neal wanted Bryant to keep the MVP trophy, but Bryant gave it to O’Neal’s son. Happiness all around.
But O’Neal was at the end of his career. Both men had won championships. They weren’t two superstars in their prime, each trying to get his first ring.
Could Durant and Westbrook hug and laugh Sunday? Be named co-MVPs? Stay tuned for some actual All-Star drama.