His history here naturally places the Thunder among the plausible potential destinations for Chris Paul should he flee New Orleans as multiple reports indicate he desires.
But the NBA isn't about nostalgia, and Oklahoma City fans who remember the Hornets' star point guard dazzling during his first two seasons should forget any ideas of the Thunder pursing Paul.
Paul needs the Thunder more than the Thunder needs Paul. In fact, the Thunder doesn't need Paul at all and isn't about to trade the farm to get him.
At this point, any desire to see Paul in a Thunder uniform is a clear lack of respect for Russell Westbrook. Management affirmed its belief in Westbrook by passing on Ricky Rubio in the 2009 NBA Draft, and last season Westbrook promptly squashed the "is-he-or-isn't-he" debate over whether he's a point guard. After putting together the best playoff performance of any Thunder player, Westbrook now enters his third season well-established as one of the league's best young floor generals.
Yes, Paul is better than Westbrook. But Westbrook already has forced his way into any conversation about the game's elite young lead guards. It's a list that includes Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Derrick Rose. Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings played their way into the mix last season, and 2010 No. 1 overall pick John Wall also will soon join the club.
But any way you slice it, Westbrook currently ranks in the top five of the aforementioned list. Paul isn't that much better than Westbrook that the Thunder would seek a swap, especially not one that mandates the inclusion of, say, Jeff Green, Nick Collison and multiple draft picks. Think of it like LeBron James versus Dwyane Wade. James is clearly better, but before they joined forces Miami wouldn't have traded Wade for James.
Westbrook also is the better fit. A pairing of Paul and Kevin Durant would look great on paper. But Durant and Paul may not coexist on the court, at least not like Durant and Westbrook. Durant is the leader of this pack. Westbrook knows that. Paul perhaps does not. But it makes no sense to tinker with the current chemistry trying to find out.
What also gets lost in the appeal of Paul is how Westbrook's skill set meshes better with Durant and the Thunder's offensive and defensive principles. Paul is most effective with the ball in his hands while Westbrook can contribute even if asked to defer to Durant or run coach Scott Brooks' movement and cutting-based offense.
Paul is currently a better shooter and always will be the better playmaker. But Westbrook will improve his jump shot in time, while the Thunder's roster has become talented enough that it now has several players who can create for others and doesn't need one player to lead the charge. Westbrook, meanwhile, is more versatile, is the better defender (even if he didn't show it last season) and rebounder (especially on the offensive end).
Westbrook also is four years younger than Paul and more durable. It's enough to make the Thunder hold onto exactly what it has.