When and how did Russell Westbrook become the bad guy? My colleague recently did an article basically stating that the reason the Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling is due to no one wanting to play with Westbrook. The article cited James Harden, Serge Ibaka and the departure of Kevin Durant as proof that Westbrook is running teammates out-of-town due to his selfishness with the ball.
How far from the truth that is.
To begin, Harden left because Sam Presti tried to low-ball him into a contract Harden didn’t believe in. At the time, Harden was possibly the best sixth man in the NBA and he wanted to be paid as such. However, Presti had other plans. He knew Harden was good but he had no idea he was MVP candidate good. That’s a part of business, you take risk, some work and some don’t. Just so happens that Presti’s didn’t work out in favor of the Thunder when it came to Harden. But, for some to blame that on Westbrook is unfair. He had nothing to do with that.
The next reason was that of Ibaka and his departure. Now, when Durant was out due to injuries, Ibaka and Westbrook had a great chemistry as he developed a perimeter game and was solid on the defense end but, when Durant returned, Ibaka went back to 3rd fiddle and numbers suffered. However, the blame for that has been placed on Westbrook as well, not Durant. Westbrook was not the reason for Ibaka being traded to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo. That move was done to try to entice Durant to resigning with the Thunder and give the team that 3rd scoring option they lacked since Harden’s departure. But, it didn’t work. So, what happened was everyone pointed the finger at Westbrook again. He didn’t make the trade.
Now, we come to the real heart of the matter. Why did Durant leave? Was it Westbrook’s fault, his inability to pass the ball, his on-court personality or did he and Durant just not get along? Didn’t Durant win MVP as a teammate of Westbrook? Was it Westbrook’s fault the team let a 3-1 series lead slip away to the Golden State Warriors last season? Yes and no. Check the stats for the past few years and see the impact Russ had on the Thunder. It was times when Durant was out that Russ played with fractures in his face and had to wear a mask and he put the team on his back but it wasn’t enough firepower to help him get over the hump. But, what happened was the whispers began about who the team belonged to and that’s when I belive it begin to sit in with Durant that he may need to move on. He was no longer the leader. That wasn’t Russ fault, he wasn’t injured, all he did was play the only way he knew how. Durant’s pride was hurt. In the words of the Green Arrow, “You Durant have failed this city”.
All this brings us to this season. Russ is averaging a triple-double. Not a game here and there but the entire season and all we read in the headlines is that he’s back to his selfish ways. How so? If LeBron James was doing it, it would be considered the greatest season and a testament to him being the G.O.A.T. but since it’s Westbrook he gets criticized. Stephen Curry wants to be the best shooter in NBA history, Kyrie Irving wants to be the best dribbler, but Russ, he wants to shoot it in your face or dribble through you then dunk it. He doesn’t want to be known as the best PG in the league, he wants to be the best PLAYER in the NBA.
With all of that, I’m still confused on why Russ has become the hated. He had a chance to leave OKC last season like Durant did but he stayed and told them he will do whatever he could to lead them. This year he’s on a mission, much like when you break up with someone and they may have moved on to someone better looking or with more money. You have to show them, that despite the hurt life goes on. This is what Westbrook is doing now. His friend left, what was he supposed to do, crawl under a rock and vanish? No, he did what anyone with a competitive drive would, he geared up and dominated. The Thunder are sitting in 7th place in the West and that’s due to Westbrook.
Label him the bad guy for trash talking Durant. Label him selfish for averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists but, do not look at him as the reason OKC has not won. He’s loyal unlike the rest of the NBA. He wants to be the guy that leads his team, not be the one that follows others lead.