Russell Westbrook just signed an extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder, about a month after Kevin Durant decided to leave the team and sign with the Warriors.
There is a lot of tension between Durant and Westbrook right now. Apparently the lack of communication between the two of them regarding Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors really upset Westbrook, and the friendship is quite strained at this point.
Durant alluded to as much, deciding that he wasn’t going to immediately congratulate Westbrook on the extension, but to put off any personal talks until the animosity between the two has ended.
“Nah, that’s a touchy deal,” said Durant, referring to the possibility of reaching out to Westbrook and congratulating him. “But I’ll see when this is over and when everything dies down. At some point, we’ll sit down and talk. But I don’t know when.”
Westbrook is undoubtedly using the juxtaposition between his decision and Durant’s to endear himself further to Thunder fans, saying that there’s no place he’d rather be than Oklahoma City.
Westbrook says he will be "loyal" to Thunder fans because "loyalty is something I stand by."
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) August 4, 2016
Westbrook also stressed loyalty in his press conference announcing the deal, and also that he found out about Durant’s departure through social media.
This certainly cements Westbrook as “the man” in Oklahoma City, and it’s very interesting to see the response from fans around the league.
It’s easy for them to fall into the dichotomous trap of painting Durant as the bad guy and Westbrook as the good guy for how they treated the Thunder, yet free agency is implemented as a way to ensure that players have the freedom they deserve for self determination.
They have a right to test their value on the free agent market and use the competition amongst teams for their services to get a contract representative of their skill.
It’s important to remember that it goes both ways amongst the players and organizations, though. Would fans have been equally outraged if Durant was 38 years old and the team decided not to attempt to re-sign him?
Durant’s character has really been attacked throughout this ordeal, and it’s simply not fair. Fans tend to hold athletes to bizarrely arbitrary ideals, and one that usually seems to be demanded is an attitude not concerned with individual welfare, but that of the team that they’re playing for.
Durant has seemingly sacrificed individual accolades for collective team success. He’s going to share the court with multiple star players, so it stands to reason that his statistics are going to take a dip through that coexistence.
The end result is going to be increased team success at the expense of decreased individual statistics for the players involved.
That seems like a sacrifice worthy of being commended, yet basketball fans have been indoctrinated to instead value an alpha-dog mentality above that type of deference.
On if he still considers KD a friend: "We'd been together eight years. you don't just throw that away… we'll talk, eventually."
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) August 4, 2016
Westbrook is being celebrated for embracing the role of being “the man” in Oklahoma City, as if what Durant chose to do is somehow less noble.
Westbrook is likely going to get more shots in that offense now that Durant is gone. He had always been criticized for asserting himself too much with a great player like Durant playing alongside him. There’s no longer any restraint that Westbrook is expected to show.
He’s going to take even more shots per game next season, and it’ll be interesting to see if the same people bestowing praise upon him now for embracing his role as “the man” for the Thunder continue doing so when he becomes the high volume shooter that he has always longed to be.
Westbrook was 5th in the NBA in field goal attempts last season, despite the most dynamic scorer of the past decade being on the court alongside him. Those totals are only going to increase now that Durant isn’t there.
It’s strange to me that Westbrook’s situation is applauded for virtuousness while Durant’s situation is criticized.
It’s hard for fans to have it both ways. Players are supposed to be selfless, care more about team success than individual success, and not prioritize money above all else, yet are also expected to want to be the main option on a team if they’re of a certain talent level and to assert themselves through shot attempts and ball domination.
It’s cognitive dissonance like this that’s really illustrated through this Durant and Westbrook situation.
I’m not even saying that what Westbrook is doing is somehow wrong. I’m more addressing the people who say that Durant did something wrong. How are any of the traits that Durant has displayed through deciding to join the Warriors negative?
He prioritizes winning above all else. Isn’t that something that fans always want athletes to do? Aren’t fans frustrated at “me first” athletes who only care about money and individual accolades?
It’s inconsistencies like this that should reassure Durant that the vitriol thrown his way is irrational. He made the decision that was right for him, and that’s all that matters.