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Well hot diggity damn. The NBA off season already took us to the woodshed to give us that good ol’ good old. (yeah, I’m not exactly sure what that means either but Imma roll with it) And it’s still not over. That’s because Russell Westbrook looks to be taking his ultra modern, hip fashion sense to where it should be more appreciated like Miami or New York or (squints at unsubstantiated clickbait sports sites) Detroit?
And before I could write anymore on the subject, the latest bomb erupted. Russell Westbrook had indeed been traded and to Houston of all places. And for Chris Paul of all people. And for enough 1st round picks that OKC has now acquired up to 15 of them over the next 7 drafts. Now, relationships are really important in basketball just as in real life. Sometimes it works out and sometimes people choose the wrong situation. But that ‘wrong’ situation wasn’t always the wrong choice at the time.
Back when Kevin Durant (2007) and Russell Westbrook (2008 along with Serge Ibaka!) were the last first round picks for the Seattle Supersonics, it was obvious who the future of the soon to be Oklahoma City Thunder (damn you Clay Bennett) was going to be. And then in 2009, the Thunder drafted one James Harden in the 1st round with pick 3. That’s right, they drafted 3 future MVP’s back to back to back. In a couple years, it was KD and Russ’ show but James Harden was the mistress. Or the side piece as our post modernist youths would call it.
He became the 2012 6th Man of the Year, taking a backseat to a KD and Russ led team that would go all the way to the NBA Finals after making short work of the Dallas Mavs (4-0), L.A. Lakers (4-1), and San Antone Spurs (4-2), the last 3 Western Conference Champions*. But by the next season, he was gone. The speculation was that the Thunder couldn’t afford the luxury tax that extending Harden would lead to. As well as that he, Durant, and Westbrook couldn’t end up existing together in a starting five. And finally, that Westbrook (the one who would always be ‘married’ to Durant) just had better prospects for their future together.
*Technically, these 3 franchises had represented the West in the previous 13 Finals.
And now, after Durant unceremoniously left Westbrook right after teaming up to blow a 3-1 lead against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, Westbrook came back to his old mistress after a couple years of playing the field. Short lived affairs with Victor Oladipo and Paul George* didn’t work out and Westbrook, now looking sheepishly like the one who was driving them all away, ran back to the old flame that welcomed him with open arms.
*The second time a superstar left Russ for the hottest trending player in the NBA.
But I digress. This write-up was supposed to be about the guy who was really behind all of this happening. The guy who’s off court actions and premeditations are taking on a legendary status. That Guy Kawhi who may have saved the NBA. But that article will have to come another day, friend(s). That yours truly can start writing in the late morning with a topic in mind, take a siesta, then return later only to find that everything changed again is a testament to how volatile this NBA offseason has been. Markers need reset, end goals need realigned, false prophet NBA reporters need roasted.
The two main questions from the Westbrook-Paul trade is will the Westbrook-Harden pairing work and what will happen to Chris Paul. When Paul got traded to Houston, the same questions arose regarding his compatibility with Harden. I said at the time “But both these guys are unselfish and used to playing with players that want the ball so that should work out fine.” And it actually did albeit not for long. After two years, the honeymoon swoon faded and Chris Paul’s nagging and stubbornness on playing basketball the right way didn’t mesh well with James Harden always coming home late at night and free-spirited usage rate.
But although it would seem to be a match made in hell for reasons like this and this, both Harden and Westbrook have strong motivations to make this work. Harden has his old flame back as he enters the downturn of his career and Westbrook, on his 3rd superstar marriage might finally realize that he has to ask the man in the mirror to change his ways. I suspect these two will figure out how to make it work and I think this will mean Westbrook deferring more to Harden while also practicing discipline in his shot selection.
The sadder story is poor Chris Paul. Many casual fans may not realize that Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards of all time. Any discussion of ‘greatest little man in NBA history’ must include him. And the guy can still play although he’s lost a step in his old age which probably foretells more injury ramifications. Paul just wants to win and he knows how to play winning basketball. If only his teammates cared as much as he does. And without another star, let alone superstar, in OKC, Paul isn’t a happy camper.
Chris Paul will be bought out or traded. But he has over $120 million left on his 3 year contract and the notoriously averse to spending Thunder ownership is extremely unlikely to spend near that kind of sum just to see him walk away. A trade seems imminent. One that might shake things up YET AGAIN in an offseason that’s less than 2 months old. Rumors have the Heat as a potential suitor. At least there, he has someone else that can match his determination to win in Jimmy Butler. But how the Heat can trade for him after making a slew of trades to be able to afford Butler comes into question. An unlikely buyout would most assuredly see Paul signing a league minimum or exemption with the Los Angeles Lakers to join banana boat chum LeBron James but I see his most likely destination being South Beach which would propel the Heat to Eastern Conference contendership status.
Oh my. #thisleague