The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the NBA's best young squads, a small-market up-and-comer that thrilled the nation last season with its run to the Western Conference finals. The team is led by a dynamic duo of 23-year-old stars, two-time league scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook.
And therein could lie the problem.
Durant and Westbrook appeared to engage in a heated exchange during Wednesday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. According to a report in the Oklahoman, the two stars began shouting at each other and had to be separated.
Both players downplayed the incident, which sparked a flurry of tweets with trade suggestions to send Westbrook elsewhere. "We're going to disagree sometimes, like I've always been saying," Durant told reporters. "But I'm behind him 110 percent, and he's the same way with me. And you seen when we came on the floor, we clicked and everything started to work from there."
Westbrook agreed that the altercation was minor. "It's a part of the game," he told ESPN Dallas. "It never was meant to spill over, so it wasn't like I did it on purpose to spill over."
The situation bears watching because this isn't the first instance of trouble. While Westbrook is a major reason for the team's success, he is criticized for being too offensive-minded at times. That became a major storyline in the playoffs last season, especially when Westbrook spent the entire fourth quarter on the bench in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
There's a sense that Westbrook might chafe a little at playing a secondary role to Durant. The Thunder signed Durant to a five-year contract extension in July 2010, signifying its commitment to the Washington, D.C., native.
Meanwhile, Westbrook is still playing on his rookie contract. The Thunder have indicated a desire to extend him, and Westbrook hasn't spoken openly of leaving for a bigger stage. Durant says that his running mate "wants to stay here. That's the vibe I'm getting. I think Russell believes in the team first, and he wants to be in Oklahoma City."
That could very well be the case.
As one of the league's most popular and most watched teams, the Thunder receive plenty of media attention. And the relationship between Durant and Westbrook will continue to draw much interest.