NBA Sunday: Can Westbrook & Durant Co-Exist?
Can Westbrook and Durant Co-Exist?
A lot is being made about the fact that both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are only 22 years old, that they’ve potentially got a decade together to grow and make several serious attempts at winning a championship.
But a lot is also being made about Westbrook’s seemingly increasing inability to get Durant—the best scorer in the league—the basketball, especially in clutch situations.
Anybody who watched the last six minutes of OKC’s Game 3 loss know how seldom Durant got the ball in his hands, which is even more surprising considering that the Thunder actually had an opportunity to win the ball game. Time and time again, though, Westbrook didn’t even look in Durant’s direction. It didn’t even seem like he had his peripheral vision turned on. Just Russell and the basket and nobody else.
That, put as bluntly as possible, is a problem. An even bigger problem is that, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, one veteran teammate of Westbrook’s said, "He thinks he’s better than Durant."
Again—if that’s true, the Thunder have a huge problem on their hands.
Not that Durant is necessarily a guy to demand the ball down the stretch of any game, and it’s not that all of Westbrook’s shots were necessarily bad, but Westbrook must attain a better understanding of what he’s got alongside him. Since he seems to forget that more often than he remembers, the question arises—in the long-term, are the Thunder better off with Westbrook, or without him?
Again, Durant loves Westbrook and isn’t the kind of guy to ever issue a me-or-him ultimatum, but hypothetically, would it be possible to trade Westbrook somewhere down the line for a point guard more in tune with getting a top-tier scorer the ball instead of becoming a top-tier scorer himself?
Westbrook is still on his rookie deal and is scheduled to make a mere $5 million next season. There’s no way to get full value for a kid that talented making so little money. But in one more year he’s up for an extension, and that would be the team’s first opportunity to try and do something significant with their point guard, if they felt so inclined.
For now, they aren’t, though. Westbrook’s too good and too young to give up on just yet, but in the short-term it just doesn’t seem like his game includes deferring to Durant late in games. That’s going to cost them some playoff games this year and very possibly beyond.
Can those two players really coexist together for the next ten years? Maybe—young players are still malleable enough to make semi-major changes in their game—but as far as this year’s Western Conference playoffs are concerned, it’s clear Westbrook is having a hard time figuring out. He’s gotten a lot of criticism over the course of the last week, and it’s not going to stop. At what point does it lead to his moving on from OKC?
Despite Checkered Past, Jereme Richmond Making the Leap
The story of the University of Illinois’s Jereme Richmond’s prep and collegiate basketball year is a checkered one. He’s transferred high schools (and would’ve transferred colleges had he stayed in school), been kicked off a team, fought with teammates, failed to get along with coaching staffs, and generally made life difficult almost everywhere he’s gone.
His decision to leave school after only one year, despite having never started a college game and earning three mysterious DNP’s, the former Illinois Mr. Basketball feels like he’s ready to make the leap, especially from a talent standpoint.
"Every team I’ve talked to has mentioned that I have NBA talent, and that they’d like to develop me—maybe through the D-League, maybe under a veteran for a few years," Richmond said at the NBA Draft Combine earlier this week. "But the biggest question I have to answer is about my character, and I’m working on that."
How is Richmond convincing teams that he won’t be a problem on the next level?
"Just being around professionals every day," he said. "Not to say that the college level is any less important, but on the professional level those guys are pros at what they do. Being around that atmosphere every day, being around veterans, that’s just going to make me better."
Time and again he explained how more mature teammates and more professional coaches would make his life as a basketball player so much easier. They almost certainly seemed like potshots at his Champaign-Urbana experience, but Richmond tried to clarify that those experiences weren’t as bad as several media made it out to be.
"I don’t want to discount my experience at U of I, but I just felt like it was time for me to make that next step," Richmond said. "The NBA game and my game are going to translate very well—getting out on the break in transition, finishing at the rim, playing athletic, playing 1, 2, 3 and guarding 1, 2, 3. I’ve still got a lot of things to clean up about my game—my shooting, my ball handling, things like that, but I’m going to get better and I’ll be ready."
There are some who believe Richmond could be a late first-round pick, guaranteeing him a contract in the league for at least three years (at least according to the current CBA), but his checkered past may cause him to drop into the early second round, which seems like a better estimate for where he ends up. Whatever team takes him, he just wants an opportunity to prove himself—that he’s not as bad as everybody thinks.
"I’m just working hard right now. I don’t really know about where teams are going to shake out and where picks are going to fall," he said, adding, "This has been a dream of mine for a really long time. A lot of people have questioned my decision to make the leap, but I’ve grown a lot as a player and as a person. Being around a professional atmosphere will give me the chance to bring those skills I’ve picked up on the way out (of college)."
Fans in Illinois that have followed him for five years, since he committed to the U of I as a high school freshman, have been waiting for Richmond’s talents to bloom for half a decade, but none of that matters on the next level. This young man is moving on with his life, and the NBA is his last chance to prove he can succeed. Whether or not he can, or will, is something teams drafting in the late first/early second round must decide for themselves.
Bucks Open to Moving Brandon Jennings?
According to Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Milwaukee Bucks are open to listening to offers for their star point guard Brandon Jennings. After a frustrating and disappointing year in which Milwaukee was expected to seriously compete for the Central Division crown, of course the Bucks are looking at making changes, but Jennings definitely shouldn’t be the one they make.
Sure, his chances are small of making an All-Star game in the Eastern Conference with Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, and John Wall all vying for the same spot, but that’s not to take away anything from the young man’s game and, more importantly, what he means to Milwaukee’s success.
The Bucks’ season went south as soon as Jennings dropped out with an early injury. Without their best player on the floor, Milwaukee sunk into a hole they weren’t able to crawl out of. Trading Jennings doesn’t guarantee things get immediately, markedly better. They have to get something of value back for Jennings, and it has to be a point guard. That’s not an easy trade to make.
Milwaukee can’t just trade Jennings for the best available player because they’re already two or three good players deep at every other position and have no point guard to step up behind Jennings. Knowing that, it’s ridiculous to think that Milwaukee would move Jennings unless they were able to package him with another player to make a definitive upgrade at point grade. But is there a team willing to trade a better point guard than Jennings for any package Milwaukee can put together right now?
It’s not likely, and while Milwaukee may certainly be willing to listen to offers, which is the way the Plain-Dealer worded it, it’s doubtful they actually trade Jennings this offseason. They don’t have a bad group and have to feel like they can be competitive in the Eastern Conference with all the talent they’ve got. Other trades would help—for Corey Maggette or John Salmons, for example—but not Jennings. Put as simply as possible, the Bucks just need him too much.