Russell Westbrook’s World
After Years of debating whose team it was in OKC, There’s no question now.
Nobody would have blamed Russell Westbrook for leaving. Not after this. From all the behind-the-scenes reports of what went on 4th of July weekend in the Hamptons, where seemingly a third of the NBA descended on Kevin Durant’s not-so-humble abode, all indications led to Kevin Durant coming back for at least another season in OKC.
And then he set off the biggest firework of them all. Durant, known to make impulsive decisions and be very impressionable, joined what is now the freakin’ Death Star of NBA teams ever created. The Warriors now have two of the five best scorers and the three best shooters in the league in the same starting lineup.
And Russell Westbrook was in the dust. Leaving an already devastated town asking themselves a question they couldn’t bear to think but knew it was coming, is Russ next too?
It’s mind-blowing to think that the last time these three suited up for the Thunder it was nearly four years ago. They were hardly 23, already a Finals appearance under their belt even though they were ousted by a superior Miami team. But everyone saw the storm coming in OKC. Three legitimate superstars were about to rule the Western Conference for the next decade.
What could have been.
The rest has been well-documented since. The Harden trade that Oklahoma City should have never made, the injuries to both Durant and Westbrook in opposite seasons derailed the Thunder from making the Finals again.
Until this season. The hiring of Billy Donavon, the various trades for 3-point shooting and size, the time was now in OKC. All season Durant deterred from questions about his looming free-agency, the reports that leaked that he liked the way Golden State’s style of basketball and seemingly all distractions that were bound to come about when a meg-star’s future is hanging in the balance.
Then there’s the other part. The part where Oklahoma City finally figured it out. The regular season certainly had its bumps and bruises, but coming into the playoffs the Thunder looked dominant. Donavon found a way to maximize the talents of Durant and Westbrook by staggering their minutes at times. Steven Adams turned into an ABSOLUTE game-wrecker.
They dismantled the Spurs in 6.
And through five games, they had the defending champions on the ropes. Obliterating them in OKC back-to-back games.
Russ, KD and OKC were firing on all cylinders, you felt it was their time. All those seasons of being so close but always letting it slip away was finally coming to an end. Russ and KD were going to the Finals to claim their title.
Instead, the Warriors found their championship gear. Never once did they panic. Klay Thompson put on the greatest shooting exposition in NBA playoff history with 11 3’s and Curry sealed Game 7 with another MVP performance.
For Durant and Westbrook, what would be their final moments together on the hardwood turned into an all-too-familiar scene. They took turns trying to be the hero, they wanted it so badly it hurt the team in the end.
Great NBA duo’s don’t come around often, that’s why we speak of Jordan-Pippen, Shaq-Kobe, Magic-Kareem, Wade-LeBron etc. so fondly. Many times teams try to throw together great talents and hope the players work it out. It doesn’t happen like that. It has to be organic, their has to be a commitment from both players that they will sacrifice to win.
Durant and Westbrook had it. Their play at times said otherwise, but the chemistry was there. Sure Russ drove Durant mad sometimes by overshooting and not passing enough, but he always knew it was because Russ wanted that bad.
We’ll always remember them together for being two extraordinary players that dazzled and dominated. The only teammates in NBA history to score 40+ points in a game, twice. But they just couldn’t get it done when it matter most. A damn shame at that, too.
Now KD is off to the Bay, and as the news broke last night, Westbrook shocked prospective teams trying to trade for him by signing a 3-year $85 million extension in Oklahoma City.
Welcome to the Russell Westbrook show.
For as exuberant of a human being that Russell Westbrook is, he has been silent since Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Like the majority of his off-seasons, he retreats to his Southern California territory and spends his days working out in L.A. often with other NBA players such as Derrick Rose in years past, and now his new teammate, Victor Oladipo.
Multiple reports have come about this offseason saying a main reason Durant left was due to Westbrook’s style of play, though Durant denied it during USA Basketball camp in Vegas a few weeks ago. It’s not the first time we’ve heard something like this, as the stick with Durant and Russ always was they would never win a championship together the way they play. Now we’ll probably never know.
Oklahoma City Beat Writer Royce Young reported that those close to Westbrook are saying “he is both angry and hurt not only by Durant’s decision to leave, but also because Durant didn’t even call to tell him personally.”
Remember, these two were close. They were teenagers when they came into the league, they’re now grown men. They both have an integral part in building the OKC franchise in to what it is today, literally from the ground up.
Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti was now left with a decision to make. Hope and pray the following season goes as well as it possibly could and Westbrook see’s a future in OKC, or trade him to avoid another stunning superstar departure that would all but leave a small-market franchise with a complete rebuild, a position they were in 2008.
Westbrook’s extension is 1) Relatively shocking considering the majority of people around the NBA would tell you he would be the one to leave, not Durant. And 2) Likely to be the most entertaining thing to ever happen to the NBA.
Or in terms of Westbrook’s life mantra, “Why not?”
Thankfully, we have seen what a one-man Russell Westbrook show can do for nearly an entire season. Durant missed more than half of the 2014–15 season with various foot issues, turning Russ into a triple-double fire breathing dunking machine.
Simply put, it’s basketball porn.
In March of 2015, I was convinced Russ would run away with the MVP, especially after one of the greatest basketball months a player has ever had in the history of professional basketball. Here’s a snapshot of what I wrote:
Side n0te: favorite part of that entire month was that he literally played historic basketball with a dent still in his head.
It wasn’t just one month either, here’s the full stat-line of the 40 games Westbrook played without Durant that season:
The fastest way to search sports schedules, career stats, game logs, and box scores for fans, media, and fantasy…statm.us
Lastly, maybe Russell Westbrook deciding it’s not time (yet) to head L.A. to play for his hometown Lakers or some other big-time market like New York ends up being the most Russell-Westbrook-move ever.
Much has been said about Westbrook’s personality. In my opinion, his reigns supreme in a league polluted with oversized egos and personalities. The Mamba himself spoke so highly of Russ’ competitiveness, going as far as comparing it to that of his own.
I have a hard time thinking anybody has the full capabilities to understand what goes on in Russell Westbrook’s head, part of that is what makes him so emphatic, so great. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now his team. I am not so sure the world is fully prepared for this.
Though KD’s departure leaves a glaring hole in the Thunder’s roster (as it would with any team) OKC should be a playoff team even in a top-heavy Western Conference. The backcourt of Oladipo and Westbrook is the definition of the word lit.
Steven Adams’ performance in the 2016 playoffs was astounding to watch as he physically imposed his will offensively and defensively on the greatest athletes in the world. He’s now a top-5 center in the league. Cousins, Jordan, Drummond, KAT and now Steven Adams.
But it comes down to Westbrook. The last shots, the burdens of carrying a team night-in and night-out, the recruiting pitches to future free-agents, it’ll all be on him now.
Which is exactly the way a pissed off, chip-on-his-shoulder Russell Westbrook wants it to be.
The Thunder, the league, the world is yours, Russ.