1. How much did your opinion of Russell Westbrook change after he was sidelined?
Darnell Mayberry: When Westbrook went down I saw the light. My opinion of him completely changed. Turns out he does have a heart for reporters and patience in interviews. Two times he turned on the charm. Two times he sat at a table and answered any and all questions thoughtfully and candidly. For five years I wasn't sure if he had it in him. Now I know he does. Oh, and as far as what he does on the basketball court, no change. Dude's a stud. Always has been.
John Rohde: I've always given Westbrook his due as a player. I've bragged about him, stood up for him, defended him and endorsed for him. But this injury and the tornado have taught me something else about Westbrook. I underestimated him — badly — as a person.
Berry Tramel: My opinion didn't change. I knew he was indispensable. The guy is an all-world basketball player. Lose him, and things get tough. It's like going from a Maserati to a Camaro. They sort of do the same things, but not really.
2. Do you think fans and media will be more respectful of Westbrook's game when he returns?
Mayberry: Nope. He'll still take more shots than Durant and probably take some of the same ill-advised shots. That's who he is. That's what he does. There's some bad that comes with Westbrook's spectacular. And it's easy for some to criticize Westbrook for some of his questionable decisions rather than praise him for the other 90 percent that he does well. But I do think many more people will understand that his team needs Westbrook to be aggressive. Doesn't mean they will respect it.
Rohde: Sounds great in theory, but it's not going to happen. Westbrook is an easy target because he's so darn noticeable. It's sort of like Miss America walking into a room. You can't help but notice. Unfortunately, people always look for the slightest imperfections, even with Miss America.
Tramel: Oh, I don't think there will be much change. The only people who griped about Westbrook before the injury were looking for something to gripe about. People who look for something to gripe about generally keep finding it.
3. What aspect of Westbrook's game did the Thunder miss most?
Mayberry: His fire. The Thunder looked like a different team without Westbrook in so many ways. But the aspect that was most alarming was how completely different the team's personality was. The Thunder just wasn't the same. The team lost its identity when its fearless and emotional leader went down. And for as talented as the rest of the roster was there was no replacing that.
Rohde: His swagger. Just ask Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “Russ do one thing that stands out to me, he give everybody swag,” Perkins said in his exit interview with media. “He give everybody swag, from coach (Scott) Brooks to KD (Kevin Durant) to myself. I feed off of Russ. Russ may say he feed off of me, but I feed off of Russ.”
Tramel: The Thunder missed Westbrook's assertiveness. Pushing the ball constantly, even when the Thunder was out of gas. That energy lifted the Thunder from a drought. That energy gave the Thunder what everyone always talks about, easy buckets. That energy made everyone else more open, because opponents had to key on Westbrook, had to “distort our defense,” as Rockets coach Kevin McHale put it.