In the summer of 2012, on stacked Team USA squad filled with up-and-coming superstars, Kobe Bryant went to work on some of his teammates during the Olympics to get a competitive edge during the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season. Along with bragging about the Los Angeles Lakers landing Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the five-time NBA champion took his crosshairs off of LeBron James and focused on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Apparently, Bryant wanted to disrupt the chemistry between Westbrook and Durant. The Thunder were coming off a disappointing first appearance in the NBA Finals with LeBron’s Miami Heat dominating the dynamic duo on his way to his first NBA title. Durant had won a third consecutive scoring title, and Kobe knew the Thunder were a major threat to his hopes of winning a sixth championship.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Bryant tried to convince Westbrook that he couldn’t let Durant win another scoring title:
Bryant could no longer mess with James and gain a competitive advantage come the NBA season. So, he spent the summer imploring Westbrook that he couldn’t let Durant win another NBA scoring title, trying to send him back to Oklahoma City with gunning on his mind. Kobe couldn’t worry about the East anyway – he needed to get out of the West again.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter what Bryant was trying to do the pair of Thunder superstars. The Lakers quickly fell apart the following season.
The additions of Howard and Nash never actually worked out in Los Angeles. As if the failed trades weren’t bad enough for the Lakers, Kobe eventually went down with career-threatening Achilles injury right before the playoffs.
As for the Thunder, it remains to be seen whether Durant and Westbrook will be a long-term duo in Oklahoma City. Durant will become an unrestricted free agent in July, and it’s possible he signs elsewhere. The Lakers will likely be among the many teams ready to break the bank to sign Durant in 2016 with the team desperately wanting to right the ship with a proven star leading the way.
Westbrook’s status will also be up in the air in the summer of 2017 with the UCLA product set to hit the open market as a free agent. An ideal scenario for the Lakers would be landing both stars, but there’s no telling whether Los Angeles interests either player at this point.