Not all good things stay together, or great for that matter. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won 6 NBA championships during their partnership (could have been 8 had he not retired twice and left basketball for a mind-boggling baseball decision), as well as Kobe and Shaq winning 3 rings together as a duo in Los Angeles. And now, sadly, those kind of conversations are now starting to include arguably the best, and youngest duo in the league: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
They’ve been best friends since the beginning, they’ve been All-Stars together and they’re both the go-to guys on the Oklahoma City Thunder (although the word “go-to” should only describe Durant in crunch-time, not Westbrook. He’s a point-guard.), but there’s something in the middle. Something that just isn’t quite right, and that’s Westbrook.
I’m not saying that Russ was a bad fit from the start, I’m saying that he’s slowly grown into that category the last two seasons. He’s never been a great shooter, 3-point shooter and ball handler for that matter, and that’s coming back to his UCLA days. He’s a shooting-guard playing a point-guard role in OKC (which doesn’t end well when you have a franchise player in Durant who averages nearly 30 points a night).
Remember a guy by the name of Allen Iverson? He’s a Hall of Fame player and the best that ever played the game under 6-foot, but he was forced to play the point guard role throughout his career when he couldn’t. He’s naturally a shooter. That’s why teams gave him a bad reputation that he’s a ball-hog and won’t help your team win a championship because he’ll always need it in his hands. It’s an addiction.
During the ’08-09 season, Westbrook averaged 14 shots a night (41.8 percent) for 16 points, 8 assists and 3.3 turnovers. In 2010-11, he averaged 21.9 points (17 shots, 44 percent), 8 assists and 3.9 turnovers. This season? 15.3 points (17 shots, 31 percent), 6 assists and 6 turnovers.
For a point guard, that’s not a good look.
As for shots, he should be somewhere between the 9 and 11 range while shooting in the high 40s from the field. Prior to this season, his 8 assists were excellent but they could a tad higher (10?), but his turnovers are atrocious. Westbrook has been so focused on scoring the basketball for so long in his life that for the most part, his decision making is where it should be. Where it needs to be is a whole ‘nother story. He needs to slow the pace down and make smarter passes, take smarter shots, ect. if he plans on manning the ship for the Thunder.
They’re built to play that way.
When trade rumors arose during the lockout that a possible trade between OKC and the Boston Celtics could take place — with Boston trading Rajon Rondo to Oklahoma City while the Celtics received Westbrook in return — most said it was crazy, but the truth is, having Rondo control the Thunder’ offense would take them to a championship a lot quicker than it will with Westbrook.
When the “Argument Heard Around The World” went viral Wednesday night — detailed by The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry — where Westbrook was overheard yelling at Thabo Sefolosha for passing up an open shot and when Durant tried to calm him down, Westbrook snapped at Durant (Something to make a report about, and talk about it for 24 hours on ESPN? No, not at all. It happens, teammates argue all the time. Friends, family, whatever, arguments happen).
24 hours later, ESPN beat writer J.A. Adande wrote an interesting piece on why Westbrook won’t work in OKC for not only the long-run, but financially as well:
The Rose Rule already bumped Durant’s paycheck by an extra $2.5 million a year, and Westbrook could be living in that same $18 million-a-season neighborhood. Depending on what other moves the Thunder make, a huge boost to Westbrook’s salary could put Oklahoma City in luxury tax territory next season and beyond. Starting in 2013-14 the tax will be progressively more punitive than the simple dollar-for-dollar surcharge in place now, and there are additional penalties for repeat tax “offenders.” In addition tax teams have restrictions on their abilities to make trades and sign players to the full mid-level exception.
To sum it up, Adande is stating that by the Thunder locking up Westbrook to a huge deal will ultimately hurt them in the long run when it comes to re-signing other key attributes and going after other appealing talent in free agency. One thing, though, that was really brought to my attention (it’s actually the reason why I’m writing this in the first place) is when J.A. threw out a trade idea that would send Westbrook to Golden State in exchange for Steph Curry (very interesting):
Curry is still on his rookie contract through 2012-13 (when he’ll make $4 million) so he would almost guarantee the Thunder stay below the tax threshold for another year, and he probably won’t be eligible for the Rose Rule pay boost, which would keep his maximum salary 5 percent lower than what Westbrook’s might be when it’s time to re-sign him.
Curry would also give the Thunder more scoring punch from the starting 2-guard spot than they currently have from Sefolosha. From Golden State’s perspective, Westbrook is a better defender than Curry, and that should count a lot for the new-look Warriors. (Believe it or not, Mark Jackson’s squad is among the top 10 defenses for fewest opponent points allowed so far.) And Westbrook is more likely to cause sprained ankles than suffer as many as Curry has.
Interesting enough, Curry was a fan favorite in OKC during the ’09 NBA Draft when the volume shooter was coming out of Davidson (many wanted him over James Harden). Although it’s an intriguing idea, Adande failed to mention one thing: Monta Ellis.
Trading Ellis for Westbrook makes a lot more sense for Golden State than it does by shipping Curry out the door, but it’s almost an identical swap. On paper it seems that Westbrook would help the Warriors out more than Ellis already does, but it’s somewhat misleading.
Golden State would still have the same problems defensively that they do now, and they’d still have the same turnover issues that Ellis provides and the out-of-control shooting outbursts throughout the night.
This what happens when you put a shooter at a facilitators position.
Lets say for a minute that Westbrook does end up in Golden State at some point between this season and the next (this isn’t a rumor, this is just a discussion), what’s the guarantee that he would automatically turn into a facilitator on a team built for running? As for Curry, yes, he’s had issues with his ankle, but at the end of the day he has the higher basketball IQ, and that includes his shooting, passing skills, and the ability to spread the floor substantially better than Russ.
If the Warriors are in a “win now” situation — which I don’t believe they are since they just hired a brand new coach in Mark Jackson — and if the front office believes Curry is going to be an injury-prone player from here on out, I could see them offering this kind of trade. Other than that, no. It doesn’t make enough sense because at this point I’d rather pay Curry $3 million less to run my offense like a point guard should, than pay Westbrook $3 million more to run it like a shooter.