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Sounds of Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder, from pretender to contender in just seven days

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In just one week, Sam Presti changed not only the prospects of the Thunder, but the perception of the franchise as well.

Like many Oklahoma City Thunder fans, I woke up on June 30th expecting to read news about the big contract Russell Westbrook would be offered the next day and little else. I was running late, so I just had time to fire up the coffee pot, feed the dog (Chuck the Thunder Chi-weenie), and make a hasty breakfast before heading upstairs to work.

Working from home has its obvious advantages, but sometimes, like June 30th, when I’m running late, I miss the day’s big sports news. My job ties up the computer and sequesters me completely from the outside for 8 12 hours and, if I don’t check, I miss the big sports stories I used to hear over the radio driving to my old brick and mortar gig. I don’t even turn on anything sports related at lunch. My favorite game show Jeopardy fits my tight 30 minute schedule better and on June 30 I knew of no reason to alter that daily ritual.

When my shift was over, I shut everything down and restarted the computer to touch base with friends and search for news on the pending Westbrook signing. I opened Facebook and my good friend Johnney Mason was literally screaming in a private message that I HAD to do a LIVE broadcast on Facebook about the big news! “What big news?” I asked.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? YOU HAVEN’T HEARD?!? THE THUNDER TRADED FOR PAUL GEORGE!!!”, came his reply.

The gambit of emotions that exploded in my mind from that point ran from:

Shocked!!

to

Denial

to

Acceptance

and finally.....

FULL BLOWN, OUT OF MY MIND CELEBRATION!!! (and yes, the fat man even did a little happy dance... it wasn’t pretty)

Johnney and I hastily got a LIVE broadcast up on Facebook and try as we might to remain objective, I’m afraid our elation with Presti’s bombshell was completely transparent.

The best way I can describe the feeling I had that night is by comparing it to the year my elementary school announced a miscalculation in snow days and summer vacation started two days early. My excitement was so elevated I wrote a blurb announcing the trade at WTLC and boldly included with the words, WE’RE BACK!!!

Little did I know when I wrote those words just how “back” the Thunder really were. Just 4 days later, on the July 4anniversary of Kevin Durant’s departure, unrestricted free agent Patrick Patterson agreed to a three-year, $16.4 million deal with Oklahoma City. Then, less than 72 hours later, veteran PG Raymond Felton agreed to a one-year veteran’s minimum contract worth $2.3 million.

I said it then and I’ll say it again..... WE’RE BACK!! (and if I may be so bold, better than before... more on that later)

Two Dirty Birds Fall with a Single Stone

Almost instantaneously, Sam Presti has transformed this team from pretender to contender. In so doing, the bold GM has retired some unsightly narratives that have circled this organization like vultures for the past year.

One of those being that the Thunder were too cheap to build a winner around their crowned MVP Russell Westbrook. Invariably, the 2012 Harden trade was detractors’ primary weaponry —thrown in Presti and Thunder fan’s faces time and again. Give it a rest already!! That was five years ago and the team was better the next season. Only Westbrook’s injury derailed a potential Championship run in 2013.

Additionally, after the Harden trade, the financial dynamic of the team’s ownership group, The Professional Basketball Club, LLC, completely changed when Tulsa billionaire, George Kaiser, came on board in April of 2014. The moves Presti has made this summer almost guarantee the Thunder will be paying a hefty luxury tax bill this season, but Kaiser’s b-b-b-b-billions affords the team an opportunity to gamble today in ways they couldn’t in the fall of 2012.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Harden or no Harden, when Westbrook’s meniscus gave way, the 2013 playoffs werehistory. Further, when Ibaka’s calf gave out while Russell was still recuperating from multiple knee surgeries, the 2014 playoff run was done. And does anyone really think the Thunder would have been a serious contender in 2015 without Durant? Please...

Finally, without Kaiser and after paying repeated luxury tax payments, 2016 would have been the year after the big fire sale. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and all you can do today is the best with what you know. So can we put the Harden trade in the rear view mirror and leave it where it belongs once and for all?

There is a major difference between cheap and pragmatic. In the fall of 2012, the risk of signing Harden outweighed the reward. It wasn’t the $4M discrepancy holding the two sides apart that mattered; it was the repeater tax.

As it turned out, whether anyone is willing to admit it, Clay Bennett and the rest of the owners worst fears came true in the aftermath of Harden’s trade. Based on the information then available, the Thunder did what they felt was best for the franchise’s future when making that keystone decision.

The second nasty narrative came primarily from long-time Thunder antagonist, Colin Cowherd:

That gem was broadcast on July 16th, 2016, less that 2 weeks after Durant bolted to the Warriors. Jason Whitlock, to his credit, came to Westbrook’s defense... sort of... while Speak for Yourself sidekick Jason Mcintyre echoed Cowherd’s ridiculous anti-Westbrook sentiments.

Is it me? Or does anyone else think Mcintyre might moonlight as the voice of Spongebob Square Pants?

Four months later, on November 29th, Cowherd was again beating his “Everyone hates Russell” drum. Nineteen games into the 2016/17 season and Westbrook had already logged 8 triple-doubles, not even close to hitting his eventual T-D pace, and Cowherd had this to say about a Tweet Westbrook directed at him:

Whitlock finally found his Westbrook voice, but then decided to throw Oklahoma City under the bus... a sentiment Cowherd gladly jumped on board with. An Arby’s to die for Colin? Bite me!

First it was Westbrook? and now Oklahoma City is the reason Durant left? Pardon me if I borrow a cliché, but give me a break! Kevin Durant has changed his reason for leaving more times than I have changed socks in the past 12 months and blaming OKC was just the excuse of the month at that point.

Has anyone asked themselves why Durant’s reason for leaving changes so often?

It’s because the truth makes him look bad.

Really bad.

Kevin Durant went ring hunting and jumped on the most loaded team possible and Peyton Manning basically turned his legacy into a punchline at this year’s ESPY Award show.

Efficiency numbers Colin?? You boob, per teamrankings.com, Durant’s 30.49 efficiency rating was a distant second to his Westbrook-plagued 30.93 numbers in 2014 and only slightly higher than the 30.42 mark he posted in 2013! What’s your game Cowherd? Just keeping slinging BS until some of it sticks?

While it’s true that Paul George is coming to Oklahoma City via trade and not by choice, such is NOT the case with Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton. Rudy Gay took a long look at the Thunder before opting for 2 year, $17.2 M guaranteed deal with the Spurs. It’s my guess that only a lack of cap space prevented him from signing as well.

Felton and Patterson both signed deals with the Thunder many feel were under their real market value. Why? Patterson said he wanted to sign with a team as hungry to win as he was and to get an opportunity to play with Donovan, an opportunity he passed up coming out of High School, and in his introductory interviews Felton echoed those sentiments.

And still, Cowherd doesn’t get it. He is still calling Westbrook selfish with that “the ball is my best friend” crack. You don’t average a triple-double playing with one of the youngest rosters in the league, and the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, by playing selfish. However, as clearly the best player on the team, you will amass some gaudy usage numbers and an unbalanced number of crunch time shot attempts. Especially when you finish the season as the top crunch-time player in the league and you want to win....

basketballreference.com and nba.com

...but my favorite stat on that chart, and the one Cowherd deliberately overlooks, is the league-leading assist total in crunch time. Apparently Cowherd completely ignores how many times Westbrook had to give up the rock to amass that total playing alongside a very young and inefficient, though well-meaning contingent.

The only thing Cowherd was vaguely correct about in November was winning. Trade or no trade, and despite what Cowherd may think, a player like Paul George would find the prospect of competing alongside an athlete that led the league in crunch-time assists and shares his passion for winning extremely appealing —and basically said as much yesterday:

“For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”

After a brief phone conversation with Russell the night before, George shared his thoughts about playing with the 2017 MVP with S.I.’s Lee Jenkins:

“I’m thrilled, all I was asking for was a little help in Indy. Now I’m getting a lot of help in Oklahoma. I think I fit with how he plays and vice versa.”

George then explained why he feels his game and Westbrook’s game are a match:

“Being a knock-down shooter, I think I can spread the floor for him and run the floor with him. But I also think I can help get him easier opportunities, being able to drive and dish the ball out, so he can attack guys closing out on him.”

Apparently Patterson and Felton agree with George. They see the fit and recognize how they can add to this new alliance, and I think some ex-Thunder players had a small stake in this. In an interview this past season, Victor Oladipo told TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge that everything he had heard about Russell Westbrook was false. Further, shortly after joining the Thunder via a trade with the Bulls in February, Taj Gibson said this about his then new team:

Gibson’s comments are a complete antithesis to EVERYTHING Colin Cowherd said about Westbrook. Just as Victor had told David Aldridge just a few months earlier. It may be easy to dismiss what Taj “said” here if you’re in the anti-Westbrook crowd, but a change in Taj’s facial expression when asked the difference playing with vs. against Westbrook is undeniable.

Victor’s words to Aldridge were strong. However, I will always believe the weight held by the reaction of a respected veteran like Taj Gibson started reshaping the overall narrative about who and what Russell Westbrook is. This, not only to fans, but more importantly, to other players around the league.

OH, and Whitlock, about how bad Durant had it in OKC? More from Paul George:

“KD was like, ‘That place will blow you away,’” George said. “He told me, ‘They can offer what other teams can’t in terms of the people and the preparation and the facility, down to the chefs and the meals.’ He was pretty high on them. He thought it was a first-class organization in every way.”

Poor Durant, he must have been miserable. The fans and Thunder organization spoiled Durant rotten and furthermore, he knows it.... and now, so do you.

The Past Helps Shape Who We are Today

Last season’s team was so green I called them “The Young Guns”. Some fans expressed disappointment in that team. Falling short of 50 wins and exiting the playoffs in the first round fell way short of what we have come to expect, but I wasn’t disappointed. And neither was Westbrook.

Those kids kept their chins up and battled their guts out through a season filled with controversy and distractions. Through everything they embraced Russell’s passion and never gave up on him. They may have fallen just short in terms of wins-and-losses, but their focus never wavered. I think because of this, years from now, Russell will look back on his career and reserve a special smile for this past season.

Furthermore, alone at the top for the first time in his career, that young crew helped Westbrook develop his leadership skills. I have no doubt he made mistakes along the way, everyone does, and I’m certain he would be the first to point them out, but those kids stuck with him and allowed him to grow just as he helped them grow.

This season will test Westbrook’s leadership skills on a whole new level. Rather than rookies and first-contract players, he will be asked to lead a team restocked with veterans. I feel Russell is ready for that challenge and a lot of credit for that comes from his season of leading “The Young Guns.”

Part Two: The Posse

Just over a month ago I was putting the finishing touches on a four-part series to steel Thunder Nation’s resolve to stay patient. Cap restraints and what seemed a lack of viable trade options left little room to maneuver but somehow, Presti, again, found a way. (I really need to quit doubting this guy, smh)

However, in my defense....honestly, who would have predicted that Indiana would accept what most perceive as a bad contract and a still raw second-year player for a franchise-changing star like Paul George? Especially when there were other offers for George that many believed were better.

For example, rumor had it that the Celtics were willing to offer young talent and future first-round picks for George’s services. Taking nothing away from Victor or Domantas Sabonis’ value, it shocked me to learn a team clearly in rebuild mode accepted Presti’s terms.

But they did.

Within seven days of completing that trade, the same time the Good Book tells us that it took God to build the universe, Presti resurrected the Thunder’s chance to contend for a title. Now I’m not putting Presti’s accomplishment anywhere close to that of the Almighty’s, but going from little or no options to where we are today has to qualify as some degree of miracle. Doesn’t it?

Perhaps miracle is pushing the boundaries a bit too far, but there is a surreal feel about what has transpired in Oklahoma City and the nature of George’s contract only adds to the mystique. Like a hired gun in a plot from an old western.

It’s no secret that Sam Presti has embraced Oklahoma’s culture and part of that culture is her ties to the past and western culture. A big part of that culture was something called western justice and twelve months ago, someone broke into Presti’s world and took something away and now steely Sam has assembled an old-fashioned posse to take it back.

Let’s take a look at these guys:

Paul George, aka - “PG13”

Wanted by many teams in the NBA, Presti’s new hired gun posted the best season of his career in 2016/17. Known as a crack shot, George set personal bests in scoring, over-all shooting percentage, and free-throw shooting last year.

Feared on both ends of the court and considered one of the league’s most deadly 2-way players, George has taken on the best this league has to offer and earned their respect. A high-flyer capable of putting up 30+ points on any given night.

Patrick Patterson, aka - 2Pat

Lost in a recruiting war in the highly publicized feud involving Kentucky in 2007, Patterson gets a second opportunity to ride with Billy “the Kid” Donovan. Though his time in Toronto ended on a sour note, Patterson does come to the Thunder with this endorsement from former Rockets coach, Kevin McHale:

“After you've been with him for a while, you go, ‘This cat wants to win. This dude wants to win. Believe me, in our league, those dudes are getting more rare and more rare”, and said, “Patterson's skill as a team defender — his understanding of help and rotations — will benefit Thunder stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George”.

When asked to explain McHale added: (note to Enes Kanter, pay particular attention to this next comment)

“When the Thunder's perimeter defenders are guarding the ball, Patterson will rotate — three feet, five feet, eight feet if he needs to — to present a roadblock to getting into the paint.

Then for the guy with the ball, there's no driving room. He just passes it. It takes pressure off your perimeter guys when your bigs understand plugging and being in the right spot and presenting their body and not allowing the perimeter (offensive) guys to see a wide-open pasture and think, ‘I'm gonna drive there for sure.'”

Patterson will help the Thunder “in a million different little subtle ways.”

Known as a team player and great “glue guy”, Patterson’s weapon of choice is the catch-and-shoot 3. A skill the Thunder have a well documented need for. Patterson can also be an effective PnR option, but it will be important for the Thunder to help him regain his former offensive confidence before leaning on him too heavily.

And finally....

Raymond Felton, aka - “Felts”

After winning a National Championship for North Carolina and being selected 5th in the 2005 NBA Draft, Felton spent the next decade of his career as a starter before finding a spot backing up Clipper star Chris Paul.

Felton should bring some much-needed veteran leadership to a Thunder bench that has struggled to produce consistently since the departure of Reggie Jackson in 2015.

In the twilight of what was once considered a promising career with no championship to show for it, Felton promises to bring an expectation of accountability along with a nasty defensive mindset and 12 years of veteran tricks in his holster.

A New Identity

Obviously adding a bona fide star, a solid journeyman, and a grizzled veteran will change the Thunder’s overall mindset. In trying to decide what that mindset might be I posed this question to some of the WTLC staff:

What personality, or identity, do you think the 2017/18 Thunder will develop over the course of the season?

When considering how team personality can impact a team's performance, it is always important to remember that in the NBA, emotions only carry you so far (unless you're Michael Jordan in 1996). They might help you spike your performance to get up for the big moments, but for the most part, success over potentially close to 100 games relies on good habits, good practice, repetition, execution, and feeling the pain of consequence when you fail to do those things.

I think that there's something to be said about the thought of a hell-bent Russell Westbrook trying to wreck the league again, only with more firepower around him. The challenge though is that this team will need to learn how to beat teams. I don't just mean play well, but to make use of their comparative advantages and know when it's time to drop the hammer. The challenge with that however is that when those moments come, you have to know how to execute really, really well, and that's where the emotional side of things can become a disadvantage.

Rather, I'd much prefer the team take the emotional lead of their Kiwi center, Steven Adams. There will be emotional moments for sure, but a steady, even hand is what is needed to navigate through nearly an 8 month slog. Keep the emotions in check, care about the small details, never let anything get you too riled up, and when the playoffs roll around, you'll know who you are and what you need to do to do some serious damage this time around when games matter most.

There's the identity that I would *like* them to have - and that is the 2004 Pistons. A team that knew exactly what their strengths and weaknesses were, and most importantly, were not afraid of the Lakers and completely embarrassed them in the Finals.
J.A. Sherman, Site Manager, WTLC

I feel Sam Presti's recent vision of constructing a skilled, dynamic, and prideful Thunder unit will manifest this season. However, defense is where Oklahoma City should excel in 2017-18. Featuring lengthy, experienced openers Paul George, Andre Roberson, Patrick Patterson, and Steven Adams, rival franchises will likely find routine scoring opportunities curbed by the aforesaid group.

With such anticipated, led offensively by Russell Westbrook, and with increased spacing, the Thunder's two-way capacity also projects as top-level.

When one considers the versatility of OKC’s revised roster, several uplifting scenarios come to mind.

For instance, envision the crunch-time efficiency displayed by an attuned OKC starting five which constricts its opponents’ shooting space before gaining possession and then closing matters with a dagger from either Westbrook or George.

Though behind a well-crafted league-leading defense, this season, as opposed to last, such cliffhanger situations should naturally decline.

Even so, contractual situations deem this Thunder iteration should embrace the day, because anything beyond 2018 isn’t guaranteed.

Joshua Broom, Managing Editor, WTLC

With the additions the Thunder have made thus far into the off-season, I expect the overall attitude and play style of the roster to be significantly different on court. Last season, much of the focus was dedicated towards creating opportunities for Russ on offense, while their defensive manner was realistically sub par, this years lineup will be a whole new beast.

With the addition of Paul George and the re-signing of Roberson, I expect a substantial boost on defense, and should see a huge shift in game-play. I also expect to see a far better performing secondary lineup with the addition of Felton, who should manage to lead the younger chaps when Russ and George make their way off of the floor. I think it'd be fair to say there will be a large morale boost around the roster with the addition of such talent over this summer, as well as a sense of trust that the front office can make actions in such a minuscule amount of time.
David Scott, contributing writer, WTLC

I think that even if things don't gel quickly, we will still be okay though. It may come down to winning some games Memphis style, grit and grind, but we have the personnel to win those games even when shots aren't dropping.

I think that this team is gonna have the rare quality of actually being excited by defense. A lot of players talk the talk, but when they really get excited is by offensive performances. I think this group will be different

I really want to see them keep a team below 70 points this season.
Bobby Chancellor, contributing writer, WTLC

Good news Bobby, Paul George says OKC’s defense will be “insane”. So does Sporting News’ Jordan Heck who had this to say after the Thunder successfully re-signed defensive specialist Andre Roberson to a 3 year, $30M deal:

OKC was already in the top 10 for defensive rating last season, and that was before adding George and Patterson. The Thunder have now become one of the biggest winners this offseason, with a much-improved roster from last year.

They've made moves to be a strong contender in the West, and have formed a defense strong enough to at least challenge the high-powered Warriors. The question now becomes whether their offense can keep up.

I think they can.

I promised to clarify my claim “WE’RE BACK”, and better than ever.... well here goes and I’ll start by addressing Heck’s final query.

Russell Westbrook is not the only returning starter that should benefit from the spacing George and Patterson’s presence should offer. Steven Adams will thrive with more room to maneuver. Adams improved offensively last season, cracking the double-digit scoring average for the first time in his career, but didn’t reach the promise he showed in the 2016 playoffs. As a result of the Thunder’s horrendous 3-point production last year, teams continually packed the paint night after night and severely limited Adam’s possessions. Expect a lot more of these as teams desperately spread their defense trying to contain Westbrook and George:

Number 2, Raymond Felton. During many games last season, J.A.Sherman and I burned up Facebook’s instant messaging tool while I was manning the WTLC Facebook controls with highlights and scores during the games.... (note to Sherman, I’ve rarely enjoyed watching games more than those, thanks bro)... and I communicated on more than one occasion that last year’s team was desperately in need of an enforcer. Not a thug on the floor mind you, but a bench enforcer, someone willing to hold others accountable. There was no end of cheerleaders, but no one giving out those mental kicks in the butt that we all need from time to time. Pay particular attention to the end of this interview Felt did with FoxSports Lesley McCaslin:

(she does have a way of getting these guys to tell their story)

Felton also wants to bring that emotional control Sherman craves and said as much when he spoke with NewOK’s Berry Tramel:

Felton is taking the reins on what remains of the “The Young Guns”, Alex Abrines, Doug McDermott, Jerami Grant, Semaj Christon, the Thunder’s newest Young Gun, Terrence Ferguson, and Josh Huestis. As he told Tramel, it’s his job to help them mature, and McCaslin, hold them accountable. Felton will go hard every night and he will accept nothing less from his young charges.

I have felt the Thunder lost that voice of accountability when they let Kendrick Perkins go and I believe it is a key role on any championship team. Michael Jordan was that voice for the Bulls back in the day, Bird for the Celtics, Magic for the Lakers. In today’s game Lebron James is that guy for the Cavs.

However, that voice of accountability doesn’t always have to come from the marquee player on a roster. Perk did it for the Thunder and Dirty Dreymond Green is that guy for the Golden State Warriors.

I think every great team needs “that guy”. Now before anyone starts accusing me of being a Green fan, let’s set the record straight. I respect the leadership role he takes, the intensity and passion he plays with, and the skill he displays when playing, but I am not a fan of the extracurricular crap. The cheap shots and the flying Tourette leg that he supposedly can’t control until he has to. The whining and disrespect he displays any time he is called for anything...

How does he get away with this stuff?

I’m a fan of none of that, but there is no doubt he is the Warriors Sgt at Arms. That guy you may not always like, may even hate at times, but who pushes and gets your best if for no other reason than to avoid his displeasure.

After the Durant incident shown above, the Twitter-sphere lit up with fans chastising Green. Many saying he shouldn’t do that, that the Warriors had coaches for that. And while Green’s methodology is a bit over the top, I still respond to that claim with a resounding, “No”.

Not in today’s NBA and not for many many years now. Oh sure, there are exceptions and of course Gregg Popovich immediately comes to mind, but Pops is the exception, not the rule. If Felton is still that guy we saw in the first round of the 2016 playoffs and take the young players game to another level, he was a steal.

Next, I go back to Westbrook’s tweet to Cowherd in November. It’s clear to me he is fully aware of the false perception surrounding him and playing with Paul George gives him the perfect opportunity to eradicate it once and for all. Russ averaged 10.4 assists/gm last year without Paul George, I could see him conceivably pushing the 12 or 13 asst/gm barrier with him. It’s just simple math. Rather than kicking it to a 24.5% shooter and hoping the ball goes in, Westbrook will be dishing the ball to a stone-cold, 39.3% assassin and raking in the dimes. Hey NBA, you thought you saw something special last season.... well... you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. He said it, and he meant it... Russell is coming.

Now I’ll move to Patrick Patterson. Patterson has never played alongside two players that will demand as much defensive attention as George and Westbrook will. His forte is the catch-and-shoot three-point shot and he is going to get an opportunity to shoot a ton of wide open ones. He isn’t the shot blocker Serge Ibaka once was, but is more polished rotating on defense and sustaining ball movement on offense. While his personal numbers may not jump out, but Toronto’s 42 and 23 record with 2Pat in the lineup vs 9 and 8 without him, does.

Toronto Raptors v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I’ve already mentioned Adams. I see an 18 to 20 pt/gm season in his very near future.

Now, last, but certainly not least, Paul George. We all know his numbers so I’m just going to say it. Short and sweet, PG13 is going to have a career year. His definition of a career year. Wins. He knows how to win but has never had a teammate that demands as much attention at the end of games as Russell Westbrook. Russell knows how to win and did it 47 times last season without a player like George by his side.

Utah Jazz v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Personally, I don’t think Russell has ever had a player like George. Granted, Kevin Durant has put up better offensive numbers than George, that’s undeniable. A once in a generation shooter, blah, blah, blah.... I know all that, it’s old news. What I’m talking about is something George mentioned in a recent interview, edge, and playing with one all the time. Named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team 4 times, George brings that edge where ever he is on the court.

Durant has basically had this game handed to him since puberty. He played for all the right teams growing up, he was on everyone’s radar, and was practically a household name before he graduated from High School.

On the other hand, Westbrook and George are self-made stars. Lightly recruited out of High School, they both reached this point in their careers through grit, hard work, and determination. Winning is everything to these two and losing is an insult. Not taking a thing from Durant’s incredible talent, but you would never hear Russell or PG say something like this:

“I was telling myself before I left my room that I’m at my best when I don’t care if we win or lose,” Durant said after his best game of these Olympics with 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists against Argentina. “It might be different for other players, but for me I’m more free and more aggressive in games and it’s more fun for me if I don’t care about the outcome.”
Kevin Durant, Aug. 19, 2016

Durant was right, it is different for other players, especially players like Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Players that put winning above everything.

Perhaps someone could explain it to me like I am a little child, but exactly how does a hard-assed competitor like Westbrook relate with that? No wonder Draymond Green was hopping up and down that night. I just can’t wrap my head around playing with a “Girls Who Just Wanna Have Fun”, “Tiptoe-ing Through the Tulips” mentality in a NBA setting... no matter how good he is. I just can’t.

Further, would it then be that big a leap to conclude that vast difference in philosophies could have played a major part in what Westbrook’s naysayers were seeing? I think it did.

This is why I say “WE’RE BACK!!” and better than ever. George may not have Durant’s flare, but he and Russell are more suited for one another. There is nothing passive about Paul George. He won’t hesitate to communicate with Russell if there is something he thinks needs to change and vice versa. Rather than the weird “good cop bad cop” leadership posture the Thunder had with Russ and Durant, George and Westbrook will lead this team like two Samarai, disciplined and deadly and totally committed to one goal, winning.