BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Russell Westbrook has used anger as the driving force to becoming one of the NBA’s elite, and now that force is driving his championship dreams away. Basketball’s history is rich with players who have dazzled one year only to fizzle the next. Therefore when a player who is already considered elite takes their game to even higher heights it is that much more electrifying.
What Westbrook has accomplished this season is nothing short of amazing. However, the guard’s talent should not be limited to statistical supremacy. The Thunder leader has allowed emotion to be the center piece in a prolific career thus far, but more is required if a championship is the goal.
Can the Thunder franchise player make the calculated and rational acknowledgement that he, and anger, are not potent enough to win a chip? Is Russell capable of pushing the furious pride that fuels him on a nightly basis aside and articulate that he needs more in order to win? For most players this is not a difficult task. However, most players are not powered by slights and a desire to prove they belong.
In requesting help the guard would be breaking from a norm that has been a staple throughout his basketball career. The former UCLA Bruin choose to remain with Oklahoma City after the organization was spurned by former running mate Kevin Durant. That decision, while admirable, may have been rooted in emotion and not logic. Either way it could very well cost Westbrook a chance to play for another NBA title.
It is hard to imagine a player balling any better than Russell has this season, yet the Thunder sit seventh in the western conference playoff standings. Barring some unforeseen miracle OKC will not make it out of the second round of the playoffs.
Nevertheless, his play and the team’s subsequent playoff run could be viewed as a success. Some might even suggest the organization rebounded well after losing Durant. Those same voices might echo that the Southern California native is a hero for being loyal to the team that drafted him. This thought process for a player driven by emotions might be viewed as vindicating. This is where intelligent and fearless Russell must breakaway from angry and passionate Russell.
While it is commendable to be loyal to a fault, it is wiser to be loyal to a point. Therefore this perceived vindication cannot be sufficient for the guard. The Thunder player must not allow that competitive fire on the court to be a scapegoat for the lack of an NBA title or the absence of even competing for one.
Cleveland Cavalier forward LeBron James used logic and reason for his pursuit. James felt the Cavaliers were not good enough or committed enough to win a championship. So the forward bolted for Miami. Former Los Angeles Laker icon Kobe Bryant went a different route, choosing to publicly call out management after multiple playoff early exits. The Lakers’ guard felt enough time had elapsed and it was necessary for the front office to be held accountable for its lack of success in amassing championship quality talent.
Two different approaches but both landed the same championship results. The proverbial ball is now in Westbrook’s court. We as basketball fans have witnessed something transcendent. One of the league’s best has gotten remarkably better in virtually every statistical category.
Which is wonderful…………………………. for the moment. But will this be good enough for Westbrook? Has playing every game “as if it’s his last” manifested itself into playing every game “as if I have something to prove”? There is something to be said for playing to prove a point rather than playing for a purpose.
If proving he is among one of the league’s elite was the point the fury displayed thus far has been more than adequate. However, if the purpose is to win a title than that fury, or chip on the shoulder, must subside itself for diligent logic.
For better or worse, heavy lies the head that wears the crown.
Emotion has carried the Thunder guard this far, now calculation is required for the rest of this journey. The former Bruin has too put Oklahoma’s front office on notice that what is currently in place is simply not good enough.
And adding Carmelo Anthony is not the answer either, for that matter.
When Durant walked away from Oklahoma City this off-season many believed Westbrook would follow, but he did not.Why? Was establishing his own legacy and proving to the world he was better than the current Golden State Warrior forward more important than the immortality that comes with a title?
Time will provide the answer to that question, just as time has proven the guard was not a hindrance to Durant’s title hopes. "I always play with a chip on my shoulder. There is always something to prove.” Westbrook once stated in an interview with Graham Beslinger. The beauty of competitive fire is that it is controllable, unlike competitive rage.
Competitive fire will allow him to go public if management does not make the proper moves. Conversely, competitive rage will allow the Oklahoma City franchise player to believe 24 triple-doubles and seven games of 40 or more points is all that is required.
When NBA fans elected two-time MVP Stephen Curry to start in the All-Star game, over the OKC guard, a message was sent. The message was Westbrook still had another level to reach. It is difficult to recall when a jump shooter overtook a rim rocking finisher in fan appreciation. Then when one watches the ease and comfort Curry plays with it and it becomes understandable.
Such ease and comfort is foreign to “The Brodie”.
However, no one would suggest the Warriors’ guard is any less competitive then Westbrook, it just feels as if Curry has chosen joy over anger.
Can Westbrook duplicate such a transition? Is the guard capable of transitioning from angry player to motivated champion? Will he push the necessary buttons to get the only results that matter in team sports?
It is easy to play angry and put up numbers. That is within the OKC guard’s control, the difficult part is holding those around him to his high standards. Finding, or better yet forcing individuals to do what he believes is required to win it all. Even if those moves or decisions do not yield the desired results.
But will he? It feels like the Thunder guard is content with the stubbornness that has gotten him this far.
In nine years the league has witnessed a tremendous talent develop into an unstoppable force, motivated by anger. However, the Thunder guard needs to realize that anger has taken him as far as it can. Now it is time for the games most emotional player to make some unemotional decisions.