Russell Westbrook has had an interesting past twelve months. His rapid development has placed him way ahead of the expected curve, further validating the fact that GM Sam Presti has a deep understanding of his team and personnel. In the past year, Westbrook was named Player of the Week four times, was an early MVP candidate, made his first All-Star appearance, and was named Second Team All-NBA. On top of that, lest you forget, he carried the Thunder through the first three months of the season as Kevin Durant sought to find his sea-legs.
When Westbrook played through the playoffs with his team, his performance was uneven. Despite games such as his 40 point performance against the Grizzlies, Westbrook is forever going to be tied to his "30 for 30" game against the Nuggets, unfair as that may be.
Because we're all the reactionary type, and we are always watching for things that makes us think, "I've seen this before," a few immediate lenses have been applied to the Westbrook-Durant dynamic:
- Shaq & Kobe Bryant
- Kevin Garnett & Stephon Marbury
- Avon Barksdale & Stringer Bell
The second example is the one that jumps to most peoples minds because Marbury and Westbrook play the same position and their respective teammates were/are seen as the future of the league. However, the fundamental difference between the two is that Marbury, from a very young age, held himself out as a player who was entitled. He was entitled to high stature in college, he was entitled to a place amongst the NBA's best, and wanted the Garnett payday that never came. Westbrook however is a player who has approached the NBA like a 3rd string running back busting at the seams trying to prove his worth in order to matriculate. Everything he has achieved has been well-earned.
And the final example? This one is actually a fictional story. It is made up, despite what Jason Whitlock or Bill Simmons may say otherwise. Those two characters were written specifically in order to have an eventual dramatic fallout. To be sure it gives us a clear story line to follow, so we assign Avon to Westbrook and Stringer to Durant (or vice versa), but at the end of the day that story doesn't tell us anything about this story.
Which brings us to Simmons:
"...The Zombies can't give up on the Westbrook/Durant partnership yet, even if there's mounting evidence that Westbrook has real bitterness about becoming the public fall guy during last spring's loss to Dallas. I continue to think we might be headed for an Avon/Stringer situation here..."
The NBA playoffs are as much a mental challenge as a physical one, and the inexperienced Thunder received a plenitude of tough lessons both in defeat and in victory that challenged their make-up. You could see it in the faces of the Thunder players, both in their painful collapses (WCF Game Four vs Dallas) as well as their gut-wrenching wins (Triple OT win against Grizzlies). Both Westbrook and Durant experienced all the highs and lows of those experiences. If I saw any emotion or frustration in Westbrook, I also saw it in Durant. In both, it was the natural out-flowing of an emotional roller-coaster ride.
Here is my point - I know that you Thunder fans are devoted and follow every news story and clipping you can, and we here at WTLC do our best to provide you with the means to do so. We don't leave any stone unturned. If there is "mounting evidence" that Westbrook has real bitterness, we would have found it.
Have we found it? Have we seen any evidence or trace of bitterness in Westbrook, either publicly or privately? I have not. Have you? (The ESPN talking heads' commentary does not count; those interests do not align with ours)
I don't discount that Simmons has "sources" and that the private story is often different from the public one. I also think it is reasonable to interpret the situation we saw last spring. Despite both Durant and Westbrook coming up short when it mattered the most, only Westbrook got raked over the coals publicly. In the off-season, Durant became a poster boy for NBA earnestness, while Westbrook slipped into the background to work out athletically and academically. Durant is the new face, while Westbrook in many peoples' minds is Durant's internal nemesis. Again, this is not an unreasonable rationale assuming you know nothing at all about the details of the situation.
Remember though, this all happened in May. We are now in December. Has something changed?
So I state again, if there is 'mounting evidence,' I have yet to see it or hear about it. The notion, "well, I think there should be" is not evidence. If you say, "but if there's smoke, there's fire!" I respond by stating, "there is no smoke." There has been zero reporting that we've seen in the past six months that would indicate anything to the effect.
I turned to another resident Thunder expert, Daily Thunder's Royce Young, and asked him if HE smelled smoke:
"I see that as total speculation on [Simmons'] behalf. Westbrook truly was frustrated with all the crap he took last year, but who wouldn't be?
In terms of Durant and Westbrook's relationship, from everything I understand, it's all good.
Could it all go south? Sure it could. But as of now, they have each other's backs."
Rather than any mounting evidence, this is what we actually have:
"I don't want any other point guard. [Westbrook is] perfect for us, the type of guy he is, the type of player he is, the type of teammate he is." - Kevin Durant
If we're going to try and assign a story-line, why does it have to be a negative one? Why can't it be the Jordan-Pippen story, where two supremely talented individuals knocked heads at first but eventually learned to grow together professionally and personally, turned into one of the most dominant tandems in NBA history, and collected six rings in the process?
Unlike Shaq-Kobe, Steph-KG, and Avon-Stringer, we do not know how the Durant-Westbrook story ends. I for one would sure like to witness it though, and I am not going to presume any ending.