NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Is Russell Westbrook the preseason favorite for MVP? — Sure looks that way. Seriously, what can possibly prevent him from making a strong, if not the strongest, run? He’ll have the chance to compile great stats, the Thunder remains a quality team, and it’s also “his turn.” If Westbrook has a great season, how many voters might be swayed by what happened this summer, when Kevin Durant left town? Ethan Skolnick of CBS Sports surveyed the Westbrook scene and delivers this story:
Not everyone is perfectly suited for promotion. Plenty of NBA players have performed admirably — even exceptionally — as sidekicks, only to falter as a franchise’s primary face. For some, the pressure proves too much. Others simply prove they were never quite good enough.
Then there’s Russell Westbrook, misunderstood since Oklahoma City drafted him in 2008, and undoubtedly, circumstantially miscast. Russell Westbrook, who just resigned with the Thunder for three years and north of $85 million, is no Robin nor Barney Rubble, no Art Garfunkel, Arsenio Hall nor Ed McMahon.
And he’s hardly a Teller, silently performing whatever magical task that Penn mandates, as the chattier frontman gets to claim the credit.
Russell Westbrook is a leading man of lethal capability and questionable conscience, and he needed to be unleashed.
Now that’s happened, as his uneasy alliance with Kevin Durant has been professionally — and perhaps permanently — severed, with Durant not only fleeing the Thunder for the cozy comfort of Stephen Curry‘s considerable shadow, but irritating Westbrook with what increasingly appears to have been a clumsy, passive-aggressive, conflict-avoiding exit.
Westbrook was a bit more direct during his press conference Thursday, as the Thunder announced his three-year, $85.8 million extension.
Did Durant’s departure sting?
“Sting for who?” Westbrook replied.
Well, not for the league.
This doesn’t sting in the slightest.
Whereas Durant hitching himself to the league’s all-time regular season squad has the potential to be a ponderous storyline, mostly for the constant comparisons to what Golden State achieved without him, Westbrook’s defiant stand for Oklahoma City should satisfy from start to finish. Yes, that finish may come in the first or second round, as Westbrook has been left to rally a challenged roster.
But that really isn’t the point. For however long it lasts, it should be fascinating theater, a player whose resolve was not broken by a broken knee or face, and should only be strengthened by a broken relationship.
Westbrook’s been dumped.
NBA fans should be pumped.
No. 2: The Summer Of Draymond continues much quieter in Rio — This has been quite the summer for Draymond Green, in more ways than one. Early on, his antics cost him a one-game suspension during the NBA Finals and likely cost the Warriors a repeat title. Then he had some, um, social media mishaps. But he also made Team USA, which is a rare feat for a former second-round pick, and so not everything was bad for Green. And did we mention he got a new Warriors teammate this summer? Rod Beard of the Detroit News takes a closer look at the unlikely rise of Green and the growing pains that come with it:
It’s been a steep learning curve in a short time for Green, who has had to embrace his new-found fame and all that comes with it. That’s a transition Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees Green can adapt to quickly, but noted it’s not that his former player is well equipped to handle now.
“When there’s a mistake that’s made, his mistakes haven’t been destructive — not drugs and alcohol,” Izzo said, “I’m not trying to slight things. He’s in a different limelight now, so any move he makes is being talked about. He’s got to learn to deal with that — and that’s not easy to deal with.
“Does he still have to mature and grow? Hell, I still have to do that at my age, so I’m sure he does.”
For Green, donning the red, white and blue is as much an honor and impact on his life as it was with the green and white at Michigan State, where he is among the program’s icons.
“Being here is great and it’s obviously a blessing,” Green said. “I said all along that it’s something I didn’t expect at first. It was definitely a dream come true, but you also get to a point where you feel like you belong in that situation.”
Even at his pinnacle at Michigan State, when he was named national player of the year in 2012, he wasn’t selected until the second round (35th overall) of the NBA draft.
“It’s strange to think he was a second-round pick and how 34 teams passed on him,” said Klay Thompson, Green’s teammate with the Warriors and Team USA. “I’m not surprised he’s at the level he’s at because he works so hard and he’s so versatile. …
“I saw it from Day 1 that he could be special.”
A step up
No LeBron James. No Steph Curry. No Kobe Bryant. No Russell Westbrook.
No. 3: The widow of Abe Pollin on Michael Jordan — One of the stranger “firings” in recent NBA history happened when Abe Pollin, the longtime owner of the Washington Wizards, removed Michael Jordan from ownership. Not only did Jordan have shares of the Wizards, he resumed his playing career in Washington, hoping to give the franchise a bump. Well, the parting of the ways was painful and awkward, and left Jordan angry and bitter. (Of course, he turned out OK in Charlotte.) In a new book, Irene Pollin discusses what happened behind the scenes between her late husband and Jordan, as relayed by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:
While my health fairs were expanding all over the country, the Wizards did not improve under Michael Jordan. It was proving to be frustrating and embarrassing for him and us, the owners, given all the grandiose predictions, like the team would be at least at the .500 mark within a year or two. Sports writers were beginning to go after him for not delivering as promised, then for not “being on the job.”
They were reporting that he was “phoning in” his responsibilities, spending only about ten days of every month in D.C. They said Nike commercials, football games, gambling in the Bahamas and playing golf were taking precedence over the Wizards. Michael’s response was that he was about “winning, success, work ethic, giving everything I have.” Finally, responding to public pressure, he said he would come back and play himself. This was a grand gesture, but would it work?
Abe and Ted Leonsis found this idea appealing. They knew the tremendous fan and media support he had. It would certainly make things very exciting. It was agreed that Michael would return to uniform for a year or two. It was a quick fix. We knew that Michael would fill the stands and create frenzy among fans, which could only be good for the team. And indeed he did.
By 38, players are considered over the hill. But Michael Jordan over the hill was still an amazing spectacle to watch. Although plagued by injuries, he still led the team in points scored, and made history as the first 40-year old to tally 43 points in an NBA game. However, as a player, he wasn’t good for the team in other ways. When the team failed to improve, he drove the players hard, creating dissension. The coach he hired alienated many of the players, benching them for long periods of time. Young players were coming to Abe to complain. What at first glance had appeared to be an inspiring solution slowly began to disintegrate.
At the end of the season, Michael began admitting he’d made mistakes, but felt that he had grown as a manager and was now committed to coming back the following year and improving the team. He met with Abe to renegotiate his contract. He wanted to return as president of basketball operations, which would give him say on final draft choices, hirings and firings, and the formation of the roster. This would give him more control, but given his history — failing to make the playoffs, friction between him and some of the players and the coach he hired — there was a lot of skepticism among the owners. His new hires had raised questions about his abilities as a talent evaluator, and there were the questions of how much time he was spending on the job.
After many carefully thought-out meetings with senior staff and lawyers, Abe agreed to meet with Michael in his office. Knowing this would be a difficult meeting, his advisers suggested he tell Michael that he had “decided to go in a different direction.” They felt, after reviewing his performance, they had no choice. It was not personal. They all liked and admired Michael; it was purely business.
This was not what Michael expected. He was shocked. What followed was a heated discussion of what had and had not been promised. But after Abe repeated his decision “to go in a different direction,” Michael lost it. He became very angry and began shouting. At that point, Abe walked out of the room as Michael called him several unflattering names. Michael stormed out of the room, went down to the parking garage, jumped into his Mercedes convertible with Illinois license plates, took the top down, and drove directly back to Chicago.
Abe came home extremely shaken. In fact, I had never seen him so upset over team business. He never expected such a reaction. He’d always been a good negotiator. People always responded to him positively in those situations because he was “cool” and fair. This had never happened to him. It probably was a first for Michael as well. Nobody had probably said no to him in a long time.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Did the Cavs have the Warriors right where they wanted them at 3-1 down? Folks in Cleveland still can’t believe the pulled it off … Andre Drummond likes the sense of security in Detroit; that’s why he re-signed … Does anyone want Greg Monroe? He’s still No. 1 on the list of players most likely to be moved.