NBA AM: No Rift In Oklahoma City
One of the prevailing storylines during the 2011 postseason was the alleged rift between Oklahoma City Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook was routinely criticized in the press for chucking too many shots and not facilitating the offense like a true point guard.
The critics believed Westbrook’s cavalier style of play was detrimental to Durant’s game and a key reason the team was bounced in the Western Conference Finals at the hands of the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks.
But the soon to be fourth year guard hasn’t lost any sleep by what the skeptics have been saying about his inability to coexist with Durant long term.
“I refuse to let myself do that,” Westbrook told Yahoo! Sports in an exclusive interview on possibly stressing the issue. “I’ve been working too hard to get to the position we were in last season to worry about anything somebody else was saying.”
Westbrook’s shot attempts per game during the postseason (20.2) did spike from his regular season output (17.0), but one could also argue that when the chips are raised at the highest levels your star players should be shooting the rock more.
The 22 year old guard also squashed rumors that the locker room was divided and stated his teammates had his back throughout the whole ordeal and in fact never even discussed a potential falling out.
“My family and teammates had my back,” Westbrook said. “That’s all that mattered. I didn’t [discuss it] unless I was asked about it [by the media]. Other than that, we never really discussed it. We were winning. As a team we were getting better each round. That’s all I was worrying about. My job is not to prove myself to whomever it is that is talking about this team. It’s to help my team and organization get better.”
There is no question the NBA is a stars league and undeniably the key to a team’s long term success is its ability to acquire multiple elite players in order to compete for championships annually.
Throughout the 1980s teams were loaded with future Hall of Famers.
The Boston Celtics’ roster boasted Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson. The Los Angeles Lakers were stacked with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t lack talent with Julius Erving and Moses Malone. The Detroit Pistons featured one of the best backcourt duos of all-time with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.
The Chicago Bulls’ franchise which dominated the 1990s featured its own share of basketball immortals.
The trend continued into the 2000s as the San Antonio Spurs, Celtics and Lakers were also loaded with future Hall of Fame inductees.
Further, over the past twenty years arguably there have been only three teams who’ve won the NBA title with a lone superstar or none at all (1994 Houston Rockets, 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks).
The very foundation of league success, at least in recent history, has revolved around two or more stars coexisting within the framework of a team.
So while the question of “how will they share the ball” always emerges when two elite players don the same uniforms, the truly elite find a way to make it work in their favor and claim championship success.
There’s perception and then there’s the actual reality. The fact multiple stars drive championships is a reality.
For now it appears Westbrook and Durant are on the same page.
Van Gundy Compares Yao to Bill Walton: A career which finished with 9,247 points, 4,494 rebounds and 920 blocked shots wouldn’t be Hall of Fame worthy ninety nine percent of the time, but in the case of Yao Ming based on what he’s contributed to the game on a global scale an exception will be made – and rightfully so.
Jeff Van Gundy, Yao’s former coach with the Houston Rockets, believes at his peak the soon to be 31 year old recent retiree was the best center amongst his peers.
“He was the best center for his age bracket,” Van Gundy told China Daily.
Van Gundy was also quick to point out that Yao’s situation has eerie similarities to a Hall of Fame center from yesteryear who also had his career shortened due to various injuries.
“A man of his girth with every skill you needed to play for a championship-caliber team. To have his career cut short due to injury – although I don’t like to compare players – it was at least similar to Bill Walton (Portland Trailblazers, San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics),” Van Gundy said.
At the pinnacle of his success during the 2006 season, Yao averaged a whopping 25 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Van Gundy felt Yao’s work ethic, attention to detail and unselfishness will make all remember him as one of the all-time greats when it’s all said and done.
“Until you coach him, you don’t actually see his greatness,” Van Gundy said. “He was a great combination of skill and will. He had a tremendous work ethic, an unselfish nature, just a superior worker, every intangible you want.”
How Much Game Does Vince Carter Have Left? The past two career stops for Vince Carter haven’t worked out for the teams who acquired the former All-Star guard.
In both Orlando and Phoenix high expectations came upon his arrival and those were eventually cooled by lackluster overall team results.
The Magic believed Carter was the final piece to their championship puzzle in 2009 when they brokered a deal with New Jersey to bring him back home to his native state.
But a championship never came and he was eventually dealt to Phoenix early in the 2011 campaign.
The Suns were banking that Carter, paired with two-time MVP Steve Nash would catapult the franchise back into the playoff hunt in the post Amar’e Stoudemire era.
It didn’t happen.
Carter is owed $18 million next season, but if he is waived by the start of free agency the Suns would only be on the hook for $4 million.
It seems highly unlikely the Suns would take close to a $20 million salary cap hit on a player who’s still capable of putting up solid numbers but is clearly on the downside of a once prominent career.
In all likelihood Carter is on the way to the free agency lined and now has the ability to find the best situation to end his career.
But don’t pencil in the end for him in the immediate future.
“You may not know where, but you have to be ready to play. I still want to play a couple more years,” Carter told Ken Willis of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The notion of taking his talents overseas during a prolonged lockout was also dismissed.
“I’d rather just wait and see what happens,” Carter stated.
There are multiple franchises in the market for a starting shooting guard or additional firepower off the bench such as Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and New York.