The Thunder and the Warriors meet on the court Thursday night for the first time since Kevin Durant made his free-agent decision, and while he and Russell Westbrook made for a devastating duo, it was impossible not to wonder if they might reach new heights playing without each other.
Here are five reasons Durant and Westbrook are better off apart as we await what's sure to be a fiery on-court matchup.
Justin FordJustin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
The Thunder needed a change
Westbrook and Durant were teammates in Oklahoma City for eight years, and made it to the NBA Finals only once.
Injuries played a role in some of the seasons going awry, but the Thunder underachieved by any objective measure given the consistently high level of talent in place on the roster.
There were limitations to what Durant and Westbrook could do together, and it was simply time for two of the league's top-five players to finally part ways.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY SportsMark D. Smith
Both players are putting up better individual numbers
In case you might be questioning the fact that a Durant and Westbrook pairing came with it certain limitations, look no further than each player's individual level of production through the first week of the season.
Durant is averaging more points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots than he did a season ago, while Westbrook's insane triple-double averages of 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists are career-bests by far across the board.
USA TODAY Sports
We’re about to see Westbrook’s true greatness
Westbrook came into the league a year after Durant, and has always deferred to him as a result.
Durant's game blossomed more quickly, and once he began winning scoring titles and eventually an MVP, Westbrook simply couldn't take the reins of the team no matter how ready he was.
Now that he's unquestionably the Thunder's best player, we're about to see just how great Westbrook is capable of becoming. And based on what we've seen so far, grabbing the title of Best Player in the NBA at some point doesn't seem to be out of the question.
Durant has a better chance of winning titles with the Warriors
Despite Golden State's occasionally rocky start to the season, the reality is that Kevin Durant joining Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green makes the Warriors one of the favorites to win a title in every season those players are together.
Durant has been named to six All-NBA teams, and he's won four scoring titles and an MVP award in nine professional seasons. The only thing missing is a championship, and he couldn't have possibly chosen a better team to join if that truly is all he believes he has left to accomplish.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
They're happier without each other
Despite the fact that their personal relationship is currently in a tough place, the reality is that Durant and Westbrook are both much happier in their current situations.
Durant was tired of the constant scrutiny that came from the media in one of the league's smallest markets, which constantly spent time trying to discern if there was any type of rift between the team's two stars. Now as a part of a star-studded Warriors team, Durant is free to fly under the radar a bit and let his on-court performances speak for themselves.
As for Westbrook, he committed to the Thunder franchise by postponing a free-agent decision of his own and signing a contract extension this summer to remain in Oklahoma City. He wouldn't have done that if he didn't feel at peace with the direction of the team and his new role as its unassailable on-court leader -- a title that would never have been possible if Durant had stuck around.