I know I blistered the Thunder for that awful game Wednesday night in Washington. Me and everyone else. But let me recall a memory that will warm your heart.
Early in the game. Thunder fastbreak. Russell Westbrook dribbles on the left wing, just past halfcourt. Westbrook whips a pass to Kevin Durant. But not just a pass. A left-handed pass. A left-handed bounce pass. A left-handed bounce pass that must have traveled 22 feet. Durant caught the ball in stride in the lane and rammed home an immediate dunk. Of course, the Thunder went on to play maybe their most miserable game in four Oklahoma City seasons, though through no fault of Westbrook.
If the Thunder had brought 15 percent focus into the game and won, that Westbrook-to-Durant play would have been the NBA’s play of the night. Instead, it will have to suffice bringing a smile to every Thunderhead. There’s going to be many more of the same, and long past this season.
Westbrook signed a five-year contract extension Wednesday, binding him to the Thunder until summer 2017. Durant’s contract goes through 2016. Are you kidding me? All the concerns are gone. The new collective bargaining agreement. The silliness over whether Durant and Westbrook can get along. The idea that Westbrook quickly wanted to go home to Los Angeles, to be a Laker or a Clipper or a whatever lands in Anaheim.
The Thunder has secured its core, and Oklahoma City’s status as a Western Conference power is assured deep into this decade. Superstars galore are migrating to the hip coastal cities, but sleepy little OKC will be in there fighting with the big boys for the foreseeable future.
This doesn’t mean Westbrook and Durant will be Oklahoma City lifers. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard all signed contract extensions with the franchises that drafted them (Cleveland, Denver and Orlando, respectively) before wanting to bolt on the second go-round. But for the next five years, counting this one in which the Thunder has the West’s best record, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid will be slingin’ for Boomtown.
And you wonder if this extension can only accelerate Westbrook’s improvement, which has been amazing in its own right. Westbrook never has seemed to be driven by money or security. He seems driven by never having been considered a star. Lightly recruited out of high school. Not one of the marquee players on his UCLA team. Doubted by many as an NBA point guard EVEN WHILE HE WAS PLAYING A MEAN GAME OF NBA POINT GUARD. If that dime-store analysis is correct, then Westbrook doesn’t figure to go soft.
For one thing, he’s in a culture — which he helped create — that demands accountability. The Thunder really isn’t conducive to superstars who want to act big time or take it easy. Kevin Durant is that way, Westbrook has been that way. Maybe if the Thunder wins an NBA title or two in the next few years, the hunger will lessen. No reason to think the hunger will leave the Thunder now.
And Westbrook is a big part of that. He appears to be the most driven of Boomers. I don’t think money and security will change that. Which is very, very good news for Oklahoma City.