In a terrific piece by Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical, Russell Westbrook did not dither or waste any moment worrying about a future without Kevin Durant. All he cared about was what would be next.
What looked like coming was a trade away from the Oklahoma City Thunder, with a number of clubs willing to take his services. The team needed an answer now, not content with losing another superstar for nothing next summer and if Westbrook gave them the indication, they would find him another basketball franchise.
Instead, Westbrook did what many did not expect him to do, including myself. He took Durant’s want away attitude personally, dusted off the news and showed his loyalty to the team that had crafted him into a special point guard.
On Thursday, he signed a three-year deal that includes a player option in that final season, potentially worth $85.7m if he completes the contract. It does inflate his pocket but at the same time, Westbrook has taken the baton to be the heart and soul of this team and he is planning to run away with it.
It’s the kind of loyalty we rarely see, especially in smaller market teams, but Westbrook has a sense of belonging in OKC. He doesn’t have a great number of friends on other teams, he feels responsible for those around him in the team and it’s clear that he does not want to let them down the same way he feels Durant has.
To say he hit another level without the small forward back in 2015 may be putting a bit lightly. He bumped his average points per game to 28.1, posting career-best averages in both rebounds and assists and while it wasn’t quite enough to get him team into the playoffs, it made everyone stand up to take notice.
This season he continued that form, except from his points average took a dip along with his shots per game with Durant back in the starting five. However, he was a triple-double machine that even improved on last year’s averages in rebounds and assists, reaching double figures in the latter for the first time.
It really showed his evolution as a player and he excelled in the post-season as well, almost lifting OKC to the NBA Finals. A humbling fightback from the Golden State Warriors halted that run but that will just be another burn that will fire up Westbrook to go one stage further.
With the additions his team has made, it’s hard to see the Thunder as contenders but whenever you have someone of that quality, you always have a chance. Almost like a saiyan in Dragonball Z, Westbrook grows in strength with every heavy blow he’s faced and his desire to succeed will frighten many teams to death this upcoming season.
The NBA should be wary of a Westbrook scorned. Already at an elite level, this could be the extra motivation to push himself to be the best of what he can be and could elevate him to an MVP he feels he deserves.
Step in front of this runaway freight train if you dare.