NBA PM: Is There Trouble In Oklahoma City?
It seems every good team has to have a villain. It’s like it’s spelled out in the NBA bylaws somewhere. Whenever a team reaches a certain level of success they have to have a player for fans of all the other teams to hate.
Unless that team is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger brotherhood than the one that’s going strong in the locker room of the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s why it was so absurd when a story came out last week that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t getting along. A heated discussion on the sidelines during a timeout turned into a rumor that there was trouble in paradise . . .the media had found their villain, and it seemed to be Westbrook.
The only problem with the story is that it wasn’t true at all.
“It’s imagined,” Nick Collison tells HOOPSWORLD. “It’s something that we’ve heard, but one of the good things about the continuity we’ve had and how well we’ve gotten to know each other is that we know that’s not real. Like you said, it’s imagined; it’s fabricated. Russell is a very emotional guy and he loses his cool sometimes, there’s no doubt about that, but that’s the way he’s always been. That’s just part of what makes him who he is. I’m sure with some maturity and more perspective as he gets old like all of us that will probably die down some. That’s also why he’s good, because he’s had a huge chip on his shoulder his whole career and that’s why he is as good of a player as he is. That’s just the way he is. That’s part of what makes a team. Each guy has different parts of personalities. So it’s nothing new, really. All this stuff about trying to somehow put Kevin and him against each other, there’s really nothing behind it. It comes from outside. The biggest thing for us is that hopefully we don’t let that wear us down over and over and over again and we hear it and hear it and hear it and it eventually becomes an issue, because right now it’s not an issue in our locker room at all.”
“It comes with the territory, man,” says Durant, shaking his head. “When we weren’t playing well a few years back we were the worst team in the league and people want you to be good. But once you get good people want you to be bad again, so it’s all a circle. There are a lot of people that want to see us fail now, but it’s all good. I love Russell, he loves me back, and we enjoy playing alongside each other.”
“That’s the job of the media,” adds Westbrook. “Their job is to find, try to make up or find, something wrong with each team. I think our team is so close that it’s hard to find anything like that on our team. I don’t really care what anybody says. We’re 5-1 as a team and we’re focused on trying to win.”
In many ways, it’s as if the culture surrounding the NBA can’t abide success without some sort of underlying drama or detractor.
“Yeah, it is just like the saying, ‘misery loves company,’” agrees Kendrick Perkins. “That’s a true saying. If their home is messed up and they see you’re living in a happy home, they want to try and break your home up.”
One of the reasons the Thunder have found so much success in recent years is because they’ve been able to band together and ignore the outside noise. Head coach Scott Brooks has a lot to do with that, and his approach is also helping the team stay focused on the task at hand though this latest round of rumors.
“I just know what we’re about and we keep working. I love coaching this team and the expectations. The only thing we can control is how hard they work and how hard they play for each other. I don’t think, unless I’m being fooled, that we have a villain. We have a good group of guys that love playing the game. We’re not perfect. Kevin, as good as he is, he can still get better and Russell’s the same way. We all love Nick but he still gets on my nerves every now and then when he doesn’t do the things that we need. That’s what basketball teams are about. You have to keep building and keep growing up and improving. Russell is a good player and he’s going to get better . . .much better.”
As for the persistent rumors and suggestions that the Thunder will trade Westbrook, nothing could be further outside the team’s long-term plan.
“The work ethic, resiliency and persistence shared by Kevin and Russell have helped establish the standards our team looks to work within on a day-to-day basis,” Thunder GM Sam Presti tells HOOPSWORLD. “As part of our organization’s growth, they have been through a lot together over the last three years and their approach to their teammates and to developing our identity has been consistent. Having been around them for several years, I have a lot respect for both Kevin and Russell’s commitment to this process.”
The game of basketball is all about competitiveness, and inevitably, when you have a team full of fierce competitors there will be disagreements and even shouting matches on the sidelines. It’s important, however, to keep that in perspective. Ultimately, it’s all part of the process of growing together as a team and getting better.
Few teams exemplify that concept as well as the Oklahoma City Thunder . . .imperfections and all.
Up Close: Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant talks with HOOPSWORLD about his relationship with Russell Westbrook, the expectations for his team this season, the growth of James Harden and more in this exclusive interview:
When the San Antonio Spurs signed Richard Jefferson as a free agent prior to the 2009-2010 NBA season many thought it was the move that would bring the Spurs at least one more championship before Tim Duncan hangs up his jersey. Jefferson was a prolific scorer, more than capable of dropping 20 points, and very efficient from three-point land, as well. In his final season in New Jersey, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career, Jefferson averaged 22.6 points while shooting 47% overall, better than 36% from three and 80% from the line.
That’s what the Spurs were looking for; someone to add significant firepower to the starting lineup alongside Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They wanted him to help ease the burden on Duncan and therefore possibly lengthen his career.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. Rather than arriving in San Antonio looking to score, Jefferson came in looking to defer to the players who already had a multiple championships to their credit. He came in looking to blend rather than have an instant impact.
It didn’t help that Jefferson had some problems learning head coach Gregg Popovich’s system, and he wound up spending a great deal of time with Pop during the summer of 2010 just trying to find his role. Both sides agreed much progress was made, and again there was optimism last season that Jefferson would be an impact player for the Spurs.
Instead, his numbers dropped. After averaging just 12.3 points per game in his first year as a Spur – his lowest average since his rookie season – he managed just 11.1 points in year two. Spurs fans were so disappointed that they actually suggested the Spurs might use the amnesty clause on Jefferson rather than keep him around for another season.
Last night something happened that put the ball fully in Jefferson’s court. Ginobili broke a bone in his shooting hand and is expected to miss at least the next month waiting for the bone to heal. If the Spurs are going to survive for a month without their primary offensive catalyst they are going to need someone to pick up the slack.
That someone needs to be Jefferson.
Tony Parker will step his game up, as will Duncan, but the only way the Spurs can maintain a strong playoff position through the rugged lockout-induced schedule is for someone else to come through in a big way. There’s little doubt that Jefferson can still score as he did throughout his career with the Nets . . .now it’s time for him to show it.
If he doesn’t, the Spurs could be in a very deep hole by the time Ginobili returns.
Players Of The Week Named
The Miami Heat’s LeBron James and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant today were named the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Sunday, Dec. 25, through Sunday, Jan. 1.
James guided the Heat to a 5-0 record to start the season, including an opening-night victory over the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of the 2011 Finals. James led the league in scoring (29.6 ppg), paced the conference in steals (2.40 spg), and averaged a team high in assists (6.6 apg). James scored 34 or more points on three occasions, including 37 in Miami’s 105-94 win at Dallas Dec. 25.
Durant helped the Thunder to a 5-0 start as well, averaging a Western Conference-best 27.4 points (second overall), while shooting .547 from the field and .500 from beyond the arc. Durant opened the 2011-12 campaign with four 30-plus-point performances. He recorded a double-double – 30 points and 11 rebounds – in a 104-102 win over the Mavericks Dec. 29.
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