Maybe that Russell Westbrook-for-Chris Paul trade rumor that blossomed as the NBA’s lockout neared its end should have happened after all. (Commissioner’s office willing, of course.)
Maybe then the Oklahoma City Thunder would be completely focused on maxing out their potential as a team, winning the Western Conference and challenging for the 2011-12 NBA title. Rather than navigating silly little sideline snits and sweeping the after-effects under the nearest rug.
Westbrook’s emotions bubbled over again Wednesday night and he got into a heated exchange with Thunder star Kevin Durant during a second-quarter timeout. What some described as an “altercation” sounds more like a confrontation here at the HTB. But the Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry was there, so let’s go with his eyewitness testimony:
Westbrook’s frustration appeared to have started with just 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter when he drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Thabo Sefolosha in the corner. Sefolosha passed up a wide open 3-pointer, which prompted Westbrook to yell at Sefolosha “shoot the (expletive) ball.”
Sefolosha and other teammates, including Durant and center Kendrick Perkins attempted to calm Westbrook down immediately during an ensuing trip to the free throw line. But the emotions spilled over to the bench one minute later.
Durant appeared to again settle Westbrook, but Westbrook appeared to take exception to how Durant delivered his message. The two began shouting at each other and had to be separated.
Mayberry went on to note in his blog that fans in Memphis seated near the OKC bench rose to their feet “as if a fight was breaking out.” Westbrook and Durant sat at opposite ends of the five-man unit waiting for coach Scott Brooks to enter the huddle.
As they returned to the court, Durant did pat Westbrook on the head. The Thunder won the game 98-95,to stay perfect at 3-0. And all the right things were said afterward, including by Durant: “We’re going to disagree sometimes, like I’ve always been saying. But I’m behind him 110 percent, and he’s the same way with me. And you seen when we came on the floor we clicked and everything started to work from there.”
Durant is impressively mature as a 23 year old. Westbrook, thus far, is not. He had a horrible game against the Grizz – 0-for-13 from the floor, just four points, four turnovers to go with his six assists – to go with individual struggles in OKC’s first two. Westbrook shot 6-of-17 in the opener against Orlando, then had Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio crawl inside his head despite scoring 28 points against the Timberwolves. Westbrook has as many turnovers (18) so far as assists.
If this were only about Westbrook’s leadership style – he was right to encourage Sefolosha to shoot the open jumper, though over the top in tone and expletive – that could be polished up easily enough. But if it is frustration with his own play and place in the Thunder’s pecking order – a separate, individual agenda distinct from the team’s overall ambitions – then Westbrook might better serve that one somewhere else.