Had an interesting exchange with Russell Westbrook today at Thunder practice. It was a conversation that started off innocently enough, but as these things tend to do with Westbrook it took an unexpected turn. But when it did, I tried to get to the bottom of something.
Why some Thunder players, particularly Westbrook and Kevin Durant, feel like people are trying to pull them apart? Durant said exactly that earlier this week during a Sunday Conversation segment he taped with Westbrook for SportsCenter.
Here’s the transcript of our back-and-forth, with my thoughts on each response in italics.
Q: I know you can only speak for yourself, but do you feel like you and KD get sort of frustrated when you see your teammates missing and it kind of makes you guys want to take over even more?
Nah. I mean, you want to win. Regardless of whoever is open, whoever missed a shot, I mean nobody’s perfect. Not myself. Not Kevin. Not anybody. So I mean, obviously you want your teammates to do great and make shots. But when the game is close and down the line, I mean you got to make decisions.
This is me trying to dig deeper into a question I was posing after the game Thursday night: why aren’t Westbrook and Durant passing the ball more? There’s got to be a reason. And Westbrook supplied a solid one. When the game is close, the stars have a decision to make. The right one is for them to be stars. But that doesn’t explain all the questionable shots this team has a tendency of taking throughout the game and when they’re not needed.
Q: Serge has been so big for you all year. But he’s only had one shot combined the last two fourth quarters and OT. Is maybe some more pick and pops, pick and rolls with him a way to get the offense going a little bit?
We’ll see. We’ll see.
Our man Anthony Slater actually asked this one for a piece he’s writing for Saturday’s paper. It’s a totally fair question. Westbrook chose to blow it off. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn’t want to give away the game plan.
Q: Is there a reason y’all go away from the pick and roll with him late in games?
Away from who?
One thing I’ve learned about Westbrook is you can’t let him off the hook that easily. So I chimed in and tried to help out my boy Slater.
We don’t go away from Serge. Our offense is not around Serge, not built around Serge. You have No. 35, Kevin Durant. Averaged 32 points.
This is where things begin to get interesting.
Q: Serge is having a career year and he’s also shooting 60 percent.
Man, Kevin Durant having a career year. I ain’t trying to hear all that, man. Don’t try to pull us apart. We’re all in this together. Serge’s not on a separate team. Kevin’s not on a separate team. I’m not on a separate team. We’re on (the) Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s not ‘Serge got one shot. OK, so now we got to get Serge shots.’ It don’t work like that, man. We all on the same team. We all in this together. Serge know what he supposed to do for our team. Kevin knows what he’s supposed to do. It’s easy.
Oh boy. A lot going on here. Westbrook grew defensive. Plain and simple. Nobody was trying to pull them apart. And I know this because I again asked the question, simply trying to understand why the Thunder doesn’t take advantage of all of its weapons rather than relying solely on the best two. But it’s good to know everybody knows their role and are on the same page.
Q: The way I’m coming at it, though, Russ is that more…
Nah. That’s it. It’s easy. It’s easy.
At this point, Russ attempted to dismiss me.
Q: More weapons make it easier to score because more guys are contributing.
It’s easy. It’s easy. Everybody knows their role. It’s easy.
But not so fast. I’m not quite sure what “it’s easy” means, however.
Q: Russ, do you really feel like people are trying to pull you and KD and some of your other teammates apart?
After another question or two had passed, I circled back to Westbrook’s comment about trying to pull the team apart. With Durant’s recent comments in mind, I decided to get to the bottom of it since he had lost all interest in talking basketball strategy.
Q: How so?
What do you mean ‘how so?’
Westbrook being Westbrook.
Q: Like, how do you feel like people are trying to do that?
I feel like you guys (the media) do it.
Sorry. Still not sufficient. If you’re going to make that kind of accusation, especially playing for a franchise located in a state that adores you, you’re going to have to do a better job of backing up that claim.
Q: In what ways?
Easy. When nobody’s not getting shots, or nobody’s not getting this and that, y’all try to find the reason in between all of us to try to find whose fault it is when we lost as a team. We ain’t lose, no one person didn’t lose, we all lost.
Solid comeback. And, yes, a lot of the time that’s exactly what the media does, myself included. My job is to tell readers more than just who won and lost. It’s about explaining why the Thunder won or lost and what it means. And a good amount of the time there’s a central figure in that explanation. Sometimes it’s Westbrook. Sometimes it’s Durant. Sometimes it’s Scott Brooks. But there’s no conspiracy to create a chasm between teammates. The goal, at least for me, is always to get to the bottom of the story. Team sports, especially basketball, often can be decided by individuals. And just like I highlight incredible individual performances when things are going well, my job is to point out who didn’t have the best day at the office when things didn’t turn out so well.
Q: You don’t think we’re looking at it like you guys and just trying to analyze what went wrong and how you guys can be better?
No. Because y’all not in the game.
Ah, the old you-don’t-play-so-you-don’t-know argument. I don’t fault Russ for pulling this out. At this point, he was truly done with this conversation. But I appreciate him taking the time to attempt to shed light on why he feels the way he feels. The chip on his shoulder is well-documented. But rarely has he gone into details about why it resides there. I consider today a small step toward learning more about what makes Westbrook tick.