As the 22-year-old center spoke with reporters Saturday, during his first trip back to EnergySolutions Arena since his request for a deadline trade was granted in February, Kanter expressed frustration over his time in Salt Lake City and leveled thinly veiled blows at the Jazz organization.
"I think it wasn't just a one- or two-game frustration; it was a three-and-a-half-year frustration, " Kanter said. Asked what those frustrations were, Kanter responded, "I would say almost everything."
The third overall pick in the 2011 draft, Kanter's time in Utah never lived up to expectations — both the fans' and his own. During his first two seasons, the raw but talented Kanter found himself stuck on the depth chart behind more veteran big men. Last year, Kanter saw his starting job taken away for most of the year. And this season, as Kanter looked for a fresh start under new coach Quin Snyder, the center felt slighted by what he considered an inconsistent role.
The mounting frustration weighed him down. On Saturday, he admitted, "I didn't bring it every night."
"I think all players go through periods where they're weighing their own individual frustrations versus the team, " Snyder said. "That's normal. I didn't see him as any different than anyone else, really. I've said before, we wish him all the best. It sounds like he's pleased with where he is, and we're pleased about that."
In Utah, trading Kanter might have created an addition-by-subtraction benefit. Second-year center Rudy Gobert has settled into the starting center spot, and the Jazz's defense, one of the glaring holes in Kanter's game, has been a revelation.
But make no mistake, the heel is a hero elsewhere — a rejuvenated player who is living well, winning over another fan base.
Before the trade, Kanter averaged 13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game. Coming into Saturday's game, he was averaging 17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists on a Thunder team fighting for a playoff spot.
"He's been great, " Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "… He's a very good player. He's been really good for us. He does a lot of things. He's still a developing player, and we take pride in developing all of our players, but I like what he brings. He has a really pleasant personality, a fun guy to be around. He's done a good job of fitting in with all of our guys."
No new teammate has meant more for Kanter than All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Kanter acknowledged the benefits of playing with Westbrook and said he'd never played with a point guard of that caliber before. In a mostly somber exchange with reporters Saturday, a remark from a passing Westbrook brought a wide smile to Kanter's face.
"Enes is a great player, obviously, " Westbrook said. "He's a great finisher. My job as a point guard is to be able to find him and use him and use his strengths. So that's all I've been trying to do."
But there's more to Kanter's OKC revival than his chemistry with Westbrook.
"I think the difference is probably I like playing basketball there, " Kanter said. "That's the most important thing. Never liked playing basketball before in my NBA career. That's my first time I start like playing basketball there, for my team, for the fans, for my teammates, for coaches, everybody. That's the first time."
Kanter said upon arriving in Oklahoma City that he experienced a higher level of professionalism, though he declined to discuss specifics about his issues with the Jazz.
"I don't want to make no comments on them, " he said. "But right after I went to OKC, I was like, 'Oh man, this is how an NBA team is.' "2 Single page