Friday, Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan appeared on Adrian Wojnarowski's noted Vertical Podcast to discuss hot topics regarding OKC basketball. Chief among the conversation was Russell Westbrook's off-season extension and expected role for the upcoming campaign.
During his hour-long sit down with Woj, the second-year head man delved into specifics concerning Kevin Durant's departure and elaborated briefly upon the draft-night trade of former cornerstone Serge Ibaka. While Donovan acknowledged the 16'-17' season would present a learning curve due to pronounced summer personnel changes, the two-time NCAA Champion remained optimistic concerning his team's competitive outlook.
Indeed, Oklahoma City basketball underwent a radical paradigm shift from late June through early August. The 2016 Western Conference Finalists lost both an MVP and defensive mainstay while witnessing a brave new leader step to the forefront. Never at a loss for words, the loquacious Donovan began his session with Wojnarowski by addressing Kevin Durant.
Donovan on free-agency talks with Durant:
I thought the meeting that we had went very well...We talked about direction. We talked about obviously his leadership, his role, all those kinds of things. And I think leaving the meeting, it was very, very positive.I thought it was very, very clear. I think there was direction on both sides, and the one thing I think with Kevin was that going through nine years with the organization, he was at a point in time where he was allowed to be this free agent and go through this process and start to gather some information.We were the first meeting, so obviously I think being in college for so long, you go through recruiting, you know that things in that process can change through some of these different meetings. And obviously after our meeting with Golden State, things probably in his mind changed in terms of what he was evaluating.
Donovan on Durant's relationship with Westbrook:
Going into the season, you hear so much talk about how their relationship is, or what it is and what it's not. Certainly during the course of heated moments, any players can get into it a little bit, and as you mentioned, they both want the same thing, but maybe they're going about it differently, so to speak. I think with Russell and Kevin, both those guys wanted to win at a very, very high level, and I think they had a really, really good relationship. I don't think there's any question about that.
Donovan on Westbrook's re-signing:
And there's not a player in this league that plays with more force than Russell Westbrook. And I do think that gives our guys a lot of confidence. And I think Russell is one of those unique players because of the way he plays, because of the way he practices, because of the way he approaches every single game, he raises the standard. So, not only was it great for our organization. I think having a guy like that in that kind of leadership role and getting players to understand how to prepare, to play, how to get ready to play and how to play with that force and that energy, I think it's only gonna help those guys grow.
Donovan on Westbrook's possible role this season:
I think from a style of play standpoint, we've got to maximize the people around him inside of a system where they can be effective and productive and they can help. And I think it's gonna be totally different for Russell, in my opinion, because I think if you go back two years ago when Serge was out, and then Kevin missed those 50 games and they're on the cusp of making the playoffs, Well, you're not gonna be able just to plug somebody into Kevin's role, Serge's role and they're gonna be able just fill in that late in the season.
Donovan on Ibaka trade:
I think for Serge, Serge is a very, very prideful player. He's a prideful person. And he's had an enormous amount of success. And I think it's only normal as you're a player, and you're a really good player like Serge, is to want to have a bigger role, want to have bigger responsibilities. But at the same point, too, the one thing with Serge is that in the series against San Antonio, we just felt like we really, really had something with Enes Kanter and Steven Adams at that time, because those two big guys, at that point in time, were really playing well.
With Durant and Ibaka now fading memories, next season's prevalent narrative becomes Westbrook's transition to OKC's unquestioned number-one option. Sans Durant for 55 games in 2015, Westbrook led the league in scoring (28.1 points) yet attempted an NBA-high 1,471 shots on an astronomical 38.4% usage rate.
Last season, Russ' scoring (-4.6) and usage (-6.8%) declined considerably; however, the eighth-year-guard's assist total rose by nearly two per game. And though he still hoisted 18.1 shots per contest, his assist percentage was just under 50%.
In 15'-16' both Westbrook's assist per game total and assist percentage was second best league wide. With Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, Alex Abrines and other new faces surrounding his star guard, Coach Donovan will look for Westbrook's offensive decision-making concerning when to score and when to facilitate, to be sharper than ever.
Without doubt, the upcoming regular season is crucial for Westbrook, Donovan, and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball.
Coach Billy Donovan's full podcast interview with Adrian Wojnarowski can be heard here: