I'm a bit late on this one, but last week Bill Simmons did a podcast with his buddy Joe House and they discussed at length an early draft of Simmons' annual trade value column. If you aren't familiar with this yearly Simmons ritual, it is a a must read both for its substantive value as well as entertainment value. (You can find last year's column here) It is easily the best thing he writes each year, and it formed the basis for Simmons' Book of Basketball. In this podcast, three names pop up: Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant. I've excerpted comments on them below (podcast discussion start times in parenthesis). You can listen to the entire podcast here:
Serge Ibaka - Part of the "Cost Effective Winners" group (22.48)
For [Ibaka], awesome contract, really getting noticeably better, even by the month…he was like the 24th pick in the 1st round. He probably makes like $1.6 million a year. (actually $1.2 million - ed.) Unfortunately I don't have all of the contracts in front of me. He's getting better, he's a good rebounder, he's a good defender, he is somebody who is Anderson Varejao-esque for what he can do for a winning team. I think he has real value. I think if they offered him to Utah for Paul Millsap, Utah would say, 'yes, please.' If they offered him to Memphis for Zach Randolph, they would do that in a heartbeat.
Russell Westbrook - Part of the "Top 13" group (47.00)
Westbrook is ahead of all these guys [in this group: Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Pau Gasol]. Because of the contract. And because he's Russell Westbrook. He's in year three and he's absolutely a kick-ass player...He plays his ass off.
When I went to the [Thunder] practice, those guys played so hard, and in the practice, where they're doing that full court drill, just 2-1's and 1-1's, he played angry. It was great. He was everything I wanted.
A GM told me, and it wasn't Daryl [Morey], that practices are a great way to get a feel for guys to see what their work habits are, and what their attitude is, how they deal with coaches, how they lead by example, etc.
If you went to that practice, and you saw Durant and Westbrook, you'd be like, " I get it now. These guys play like this all the time, they give a crap."
Kevin Durant - Part of the "Top 5" group (1.01)
I had Durant ranked at two last year, and this year he dropped a spot. Do we feel like we're slightly disappointed with him? What made us drop him a spot then? I have to admit I thought he was going to be a little better this year. (sic - Simmons actually did have Durant ranked #3 last year)
Is it just me, or does it seem like Durant can be stopped by the right type of player? I'm not saying stopped, but I'm saying you can make him take bad shots, he still doesn't post up…
(House interjects) I think part of what we're responding to is, what we observed earlier in the year, which is very good for OKC, which is the rise of Russell Westbrook…him assuming more of a leadership role.
Yes, but not with Stringer Bell-Avon Barksdale potential. They like each other. They love each other. I was talking to Durant after their practice and Westbrook sneaked by like he was going to the locker room, and he turned around and he jumped on Durant's back. It was clear that these guys are just buds. It made me feel good.