The Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant experiment may come to an end after this season, and it’s a damn shame. How has a team with two of the league’s top 10 players not been able to make it work? Do you blame the two stars entrusted with leading the team on the court or do you blame the front office for not giving them the proper tools to win a championship? Those are the million-dollar questions if you're an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, questions that need to be answered before one of those stars is the only big catch in a weak free agency class.
There are three issues plaguing the Thunder: First, Russell Westbrook, as the team’s point guard, needs to defer to Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter. Second, Durant needs to be more aggressive in clutch moments and demand the ball when the game is on the line. Third, Sam Presti, while a good drafter, hasn’t done his job in picking a head coach that can make the Russ and KD duo work together more fluidly. They need a Hall of Fame-caliber coach to get it done. Billy Donovan will surely make it into the Hall as a college coach and has done a decent job in his first year coaching in the NBA, but it's still not enough for the Thunder at the moment. He needs time that the team just doesn't have.
Russ and Kevin are closer to Shaq and Kobe than they are to Jordan and Pippen. The key is making each star believe in deferring to each other when appropriate.
The Thunder are like a Ferrari that's stuck in fourth gear and those driving have been trying to figure out how to kick it into seventh since their 2012 Finals appearance. They're the Dell Harris Lakers in need of a Phil Jackson. Russ and Kevin are closer to Shaq and Kobe than they are to Jordan and Pippen. The key is making each star believe in deferring to each other when appropriate.
While OKC ranks second in offensive efficiency and points per game behind the historically great Golden State Warriors, are third in point differential, and won 55 games, they are also just one of two teams to lose 10 games after leading in the fourth quarter during the regular season. This is a trend that has carried into the playoffs with the Thunder blowing a 62-59 lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of their first round series versus the Mavs. Guess who’s that other team? The 10-71 Philadelphia 76ers. That’s a mind-boggling stat for a team that wants to contend for a title.
If you ever watched the Thunder in the fourth quarter, you’ve at least considered repeatedly banging your head into a wall. Especially when Westbrook ignores Durant to launch inexplicable treys even though he’s shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc and the frontline plays matador defense in the paint.
Here’s further proof Westbrook should bow to KD in the clutch, courtesy of nbaminer.com. During the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining and neither team ahead by more than five points, Russell Westbrook is shooting 39 percent from the field, 20 percent from three, and 30 percent in the last minute. Durant, on the other hand, is shooting 41 percent, 32 percent, and 40 percent in those same categories. Remember these stats when Russ pulls up from the parking lot for no apparent reason as Durant looks dejected on the wing. KD might be on his way out. Why else would he make Kendrick Perkins sign a confidentiality form?
In 2014, I felt like the Thunder were set to win a title, but then the Warriors happened, the Cavs got LeBron and Kevin Love, and the Spurs messed around and snatched LaMarcus Aldridge. Now OKC is stuck in limbo with an inexperienced head coach and two superstars towards the end of their contracts. The one shining light is the Thunder's reputation as an organization. I can't see Durant leaving that for the Wizards. No way.
Although, I can see him going to Boston. He already talked about loving the city and Danny Ainge is a proven mastermind. I can also see Russ going to either the Lakers or the Knicks because he's built for the lights, plus the only runways in Oklahoma are at the airport. I'm out here like a young Walter Mercado.
This was supposed to be a Russell Westbrook hit piece, but it's difficult to criticize a guy with 18 triple-doubles. He and Durant simply need some guidance from a coach that can get them to buy into a philosophy. One can argue Westbrook is a better all-around player than Durant. He's a better passer, defender, and his energy level is unmatched.
Blame Sam Presti for hiring the wrong coach for the wrong time. The 2016 season was do or die for the Thunder and so far they've failed.
However, Durant is one of the most lethal scorers the game has ever seen. I would rather him have the ball when the game is on the line because his shot is unblockable. The guy is 6'9" with a 7'4" wingspan. Give him the ball in the fourth quarter and let him cook. Both have also done a better job in getting their teammates involved; where they struggle are the moments when it's The KD and Russ Show. Feed the bigs down low every once in a while and it'll open up the floor for the two of them to run wild. Again, the offense is there for three quarters but then OKC inexplicably forgets how to play team basketball when it's time to finish.
The only thing we know for certain is that time is running out. All the years of good drafting in Oklahoma City will go down the drain if both bounce. Sure KD could sign a one-year deal with a player option for the second year to see if he and Russ can try to figure this thing out. But that's if he believes in Billy Donovan. This may very well be OKC's last playoff run as currently constructed, so prepare to forever ask "what if?"
Blame Sam Presti for hiring the wrong coach for the wrong time. The 2016 season was do or die for the Thunder and so far they've failed. Presti made a colossal misstep that can cost the Thunder not only consistent title runs but also the cornerstones of the franchise. College basketball and the NBA aren't the same. Million-dollar veterans have egos that need to be reigned in by someone who's able to deal with their personalities. Donovan may not get another chance to prove himself with this roster and it's unfortunate. The Based God Curse strikes again.