As he addressed roughly 400 people on Sunday afternoon at his team's old practice facility, Thunder general manager Sam Presti attempted to identify Russell Westbrook's biggest attribute as a player.
"I think it's safe to say he impacts winning," said Presti, who mentioned Westbrook's back-to-back Final Four appearances in his two seasons at UCLA, which were followed by winning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and OKC advancing to the Western Conference Finals — all in a span of just five years and before the age of 23.
Joining Presti and Westbrook on the dais was Thunder coach Scott Brooks, and it took precisely one game for Westbrook to have an impact on Brooks' coaching career.
On Nov. 29, 2008, five games after he was named the Thunder's interim head coach in place of P.J. Carlesimo, Brooks decided to give Westbrook his first career start ahead of Earl Watson. The result was a 111-103 victory at Memphis that gave Brooks his first victory as a head coach and snapped a 14-game losing streak for the Thunder.
"I knew he was going to be the starter, it was just a matter of time," Brooks recalled. "I'm not so sure when P.J. was going to make that change, but I knew when I took over I wanted to do it right away."
Westbrook hasn't missed a single start since — 244 straight and counting — and look where the Thunder is today. The team has the second-best record in the NBA at 13-3 and is a solid contender to claim the Western Conference crown.
"I knew he was going to be our point guard," Brooks said. "I love the fact he kept improving and now I don't have to answer the question, 'Is he a point guard?' He's a dynamic player that with his toughness and his skill set you knew he was going to have a chance to be a really good player in this league."
Apparently so, given Westbrook agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract extension last Thursday.
In addition to Westbrook's impact on winning, what has particularly impressed Brooks is Westbrook's resiliency when he's not winning, such as the Thunder's 23-59 record his rookie season in 2008-09.
"He has the toughness to put it behind him and focus on the next day," Brooks said of losing, "because there were some tough times for all of us. He kept working, kept improving. He kept getting better."
Sunday's get together was staged at the Thunder Community Events Center in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Thunder Youth Basketball League.
Despite a rugged start individually the first four games this season, Westbrook insisted the potential contract extension never weighed heavily on his mind, nor did he ever look to sign elsewhere and even went as far to refer to the Thunder as "the best organization in sports."
"I didn't sense that it was weighing heavily on his mind, but it's human nature to look at that part of the business," Brooks said.
Westbrook's play has been exemplary the past six games, which very well could coincide with progress in contract negotiations.
"He's in a nice stretch right now," Brooks said. "His game has really tightened up. His turnovers are down. His pullup game, his layup game is on, but he has toughness to overcome all of that."