Why are we looking at which teammates have loved and which have hated Russell Westbrook? After all, the nine-year veteran’s career isn’t even half over yet. That’s hardly enough time to cement the narrative about whether or not he was a good teammate, right?
But, somehow, that very question has been front and central in this, the 2016-17 season, and it points to other questions as well.
Was Kevin Durant right to leave and sell his partnership with Westbrook up the road for a clearer path to the title with Golden State? Did Russell Westbrook’s need to have the ball in his hands force KD to choose a new path? Can either win without each other? Could they have ever won together? As Westbrook barrels forward as a clear top two MVP candidate while his team struggles for a playoff spot and Durant and Golden State look poised to claim another year with the best record in the NBA but will end up with less wins than before KD arrived, we know one thing. We don’t have the answers yet.
With that in mind (and look out for our upcoming companion article about Kevin Durant)… Here are 8 People Who Have Loved Being Russell Westbrook’s Teammate and 7 Who Have Hated It
15 15. Love - Anthony Morrow
A veteran shooting guard who has come off the bench for six different teams, Anthony Morrow has played with prolific scorers like Steph Curry, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis, Stephen Jackson, and, of course, Kevin Durant. But he sees what Russell Westbrook is doing this season as “unbelievable," he said. “He’s getting [the numbers] within the game. It's not like he's forcing it. It's something I've never seen before. It's a blessing for all of us to be a part of that type of greatness. He's doing it for the team. He's leading us. We're just following him.”
"You could see it in the summertime," he went on to add. "He never backs down from a challenge. I think where some people may have seen this as a tough situation for him with all those guys leaving ... he trusted in us and definitely trusted in himself, and you see what he's doing. He's leading us and doing a great job."
14 14. Hated - Jeremy Lamb
Its not a lot to go on, granted, but at the mid-point of the 2014-15 season, Westbrook offered an icy stare to Jeremy Lamb when he seemed to deny him a high-five during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook shook it off, saying about a week later, “it was something we talked about previously. (We talked) about shaking guys hands and he missed my hand so it was something we joked around with.”
Lamb has elevated his game since signing that off-season with the Charlotte Bobcats and, when asked recently if he kept up with either Westbrook or Kevin Durant, he interestingly responded immediately with “definitely KD.” He did follow however, by calling Westbrook a “good dude” and noted that both players texted him to congratulate him on his new contract.
Perhaps its not exactly hate, but Lamb certainly sounds like he was more in Durant’s camp if it came down to a direct comparison of the two stars.
13 13. Loved - Enes Kanter
Its no surprise to see that a man whose Player Efficiency Rating has gone through the roof since joining Oklahoma City in 2014-15 (he currently leads all NBA Centers in the statistic) enjoys being Russell Westbrook's teammate. The Thunder’s current third scoring option acknowledges that Westbrook is intense but it only motivates him more. “When he yells at me that I need to do a better job, it’s probably because I need to do a better job,” he told Sports Illustrated.
He says that Westbrook, in fact, made him a better player… from the first day he joined the team following his trade from the Utah Jazz. “First game,” Enes Kanter said without hesitation. “Playing with a Hall of Fame player like that just made me so much more comfortable.”
“Ten or 20 years from now I’m gonna look back and say, ‘man, I played with that dude,’" Kanter added. "I’m gonna tell my kids and tell my grandkids one day that I played with Russell Westbrook.”
12 12. Hated - D.J. Augustin
It might not have been as a result of Westbrook’s personality per se, but D.J. Augustin was extremely grateful when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him before the 2015-16 trade deadline to the Denver Nuggets. The nine year veteran is now playing for his eighth team, the Orlando Magic, but in only one previous stint for ten games with the Toronto Raptors in 2013-14 did he average less minutes than with OKC last year. Indeed, when your starting point guard plays 34.4 minutes per game, its not an ideal situation for his back-up, to say the least.
He even went to the Thunder front office to thank them upon hearing the news. ”It means a lot to me," Augustin said. "My situation in Oklahoma didn't work out. It was big for [them] to trade me.”
11 11. Loved - Victor Oladipo
The man tasked with replacing Kevin Durant as a go-to scoring option for the Oklahoma City Thunder must be feeling the pressure, right?
Weeks BEFORE he played his first regular season game as the new OKC starting shooting guard, after three years with the Orlando Magic, Victor Oladipo vividly described his relationship with his new running mate Russell Westbrook. “Some days at night I can't sleep,” he said, “and I just call him, and he sings me to sleep.” And after just a couple of regular season games playing together, his mind seemed set. “Not being here, you hear a lot about him. You hear a lot of rumors,” Oladipo said. “But sitting by him and working with him every day, and building a friendship with him every day, you realize what type of man he truly is. And this dude right here wants to win more than anyone in the world.”
The love fest has continued throughout this season. While Cameron Payne, Westbrook’s pre-game improvised-dance-partner of choice was out with a broken foot, Oladipo stepped in to take over the honor, and the two came together to treat their teammates to dinner in a recent road trip to Miami.
10 10. Hated - Kevin Martin
Unlike Oladipo (above), Kevin Martin never took to being a score-first shooting guard trying to share the ball with Russell Westbrook after stepping in for an elite player. Signing after James Harden walked following almost being the unanimous choice for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Martin was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves after just a single season with the Thunder in 2012-13. Of his new club up North, Martin noted “this is such a fun team to play on. Nobody is trying to lead the league in scoring here.” (Ironically, his teammate Kevin Love was actually leading the league in scoring at the time.)
You can’t really blame Martin for feeling that way, as his 14.0 points per game in his single OKC season were the lowest since his rookie year in 2004-05. Suddenly the third option (and almost the fourth with Serge Ibaka starting to come into his own), he never quite fit in to what Oklahoma City was doing.
It should be noted, that all in all he did have a positive experience, saying “from Day 1, they took me in like family.”
9 9. Loved - Nick Collison
Russell Westbrook has had one constant in his nine-year NBA career: playing alongside Nick Collison. The 36-year-old veteran may have seen his minutes reduced over that nine season stretch from 25.8 per game to 6.1 per this season as of this writing, but he has also had the honor of having a court-side seat to watch one of the all-time greats come into his own.
Collison was in a room a week before Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors this past off-season when Westbrook asked KD what he could do and how he could change to keep him with the Thunder. “He went above and beyond,” Collison said.
“Russell takes a long time to feel comfortable with people, to trust people, but he realizes he has that here,” he added. “He knows he’s been treated well.” He would know.
8 8. Hated - Jeff Green
Jeff Green has managed a long, steady career never averaging less than nine and more than 18 points for any of his nine seasons, but when he left the Supersonics/Thunder franchise in the middle of his fourth year, he felt he could truly be something more. “Yeah, man, you know a lot of people don’t know what I can really do,” he said. “In Oklahoma, I was kind of overshadowed by Kevin (Durant) and the way Russell (Westbrook) picked up, but, excuse my language, I can really (expletive) play. I can really play this game, man.’”
He did enjoy Westbrook as a person despite the feeling of being held back as a teammate, however. “I was with Russ since his rookie year. ... You develop friendships and relationships with those guys and they still stay intact,” he noted. “But your career still goes on.”
7 7. Loved - Nazr Mohammed and Kendrick Perkins
Either Nazr Mohammed and Kendrick Perkins (#5 Pictured Above) have played center for Oklahoma City for most of Russell Westbrook’s career, and both have backed up the star 100% during that time in their own ways.
Even as an opponent in recent seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans, you can easily visibly see Perkins’ affection for Westbrook, including when he followed a foul last season with a hug and a kiss. This following a Perkins’ 2015 tweet asking “who up?” to which Westbrook responded “me sweet cakes lol.”
Mohammed for his part, was 38 and in his second stint with the Thunder last season, when he used his perspective at the end of the bench to lend Westbrook vocal support, particularly in a controversial game against the Detroit Pistons and former OKC player Reggie Jackson. “It was nice to see a game where sometimes they expect you to sit out, but I love to see Russ like, 'Sit out against Reggie? I want to play.' I love seeing stuff like that, and then go out there — I love how Russ looks at the opposing point guard and he wants to kill everybody. I love it.”
Neither Perkins nor Mohammed have a contract yet this season, so we will wait to see if a reunion with their favorite teammate is in store.
But first, speaking of Reggie Jackson…
6 6. Hated - Reggie Jackson
“I wasn't happy,” former Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson said of his final season with the team, in 2014-15. “I knew I wasn't going to be happy in the role that I was placed in, especially with the way everything was moving forward. It wasn't rocket science… I just wasn't going to be able to find minutes. And it's kind of hard, of course, to ask to cut the minutes of a top five point guard in the league so that you can get more.”
Of course, that didn’t stop Jackson from writing “SPG” on his shoes for “starting point guard,” alienating much of the locker room. He demanded a trade, and was sent to the Detroit Pistons mid-way through the year. After a crucial win towards the end of the season over his former team, Jackson celebrated by revving up the home crowd. Westbrook was definitely not pleased, calling the celebration “bull****.”
5 5. Loved - Steven Adams
Oklahoma City’s current starting center credits Westbrook with helping him navigate the challenges through what is now his fourth season in the NBA, all with the Thunder. “Russ is always the first person to help,” Steven Adams says. “But if you try to reciprocate, he’s the last person to accept help himself.” Adams is averaging a career high 12.4 points per game as of this writing, the first time he has ever even been in double digits. He shoots 58 percent with Westbrook on the floor and 50 percent without him, which may be why he has played less than 100 minutes in total this year on the court without his star teammate.
“One way or another he lets you know where you stand,” Adams jokes as to Westbrook’s leadership, “and he doesn’t do it with a whisper. He does it with a few more decibels than that.” As for the floor leader himself, he appreciates Adams’ willingness to follow him, saying “Steven’s a guy that would run through a wall for me, and I would do the same for him.”
“He’s just a really good guy,” says Adams.
4 4. Hated - Serge Ibaka
There was a moment where it seemed that Serge Ibaka would rise to take James Harden’s place as the third in an Oklahoma City “Big Three” that would finally come together to bring home a championship. Ibaka seemed to get better and better as an all-around player through the 2013-14 season. It was perhaps no coincidence that the Thunder once again reached the Western Conference Finals that year and seemed poised to get over the hump that they had been so close to achieving in 2011-12, Harden’s final year with the club, when they lost to LeBron James’ Miami Heat in the Championship Round.
But then, Ibaka’s efficiency dropped, as did his scoring and his rebounds, and following the 2015-16 season, he was traded to the Orlando Magic. “I’m gonna tell you the truth, it’s hard sometimes when you play hard, you play you’re (butt off),” Ibaka said in his final season with Westbrook in a not-too-veiled comment about the star. “You play so hard on defense, then you come to offense and you’re going to be out there in the corner for 4, 5, 6, sometimes 8 minutes and you don’t touch the ball. We human, man. It’s hard.”
Ibaka, averaging a career high 15.6 points per game as of this writing in his new basketball home, recently said “I’m looking to stay here forever.”
3 3. Loved - James Harden
Speaking of OKC’s “Big Three,” Reggie Jackson may have left the Thunder feeling under-utilized and under-appreciated, but it doesn’t mean he couldn’t recognize the real thing when he saw it. And Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, AND James Harden sharing a court for three seasons from 2009-2012 was just that.
“Man, the youth of the guys at the time (Harden was 22, Westbrook and Durant 23 in their FINAL season together) and just the environment and how everybody felt about each other… it was special,” former teammate Jackson said. “Because when they had it rolling, they had it rolling. And they were all happy for each other. Sometimes one basketball isn't enough, they say.”
Now, of course, Harden and Westbrook are both the stars and the engines of their respective franchises (in case you have been living under a rock, Harden is now a perennial all-star with he Houston Rockets). In fact, this season they are neck and neck as the top two MVP candidates heading into the All-Star break.
2 2. Hated - Kevin Durant
If we are truly honest, this list all comes down to one name. Kevin Durant. From Day One in Oklahoma City, from the moment the franchise moved from Seattle and entered its first season in 2008-09, there were two men that defined the team: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. And, in a way, that’s what the 2016-17 season, their first apart, is still about.
“You know what the stars are saying?,” NBA analyst Colin Cowherd recently asked. “This is why KD left. It’s all about Westbrook’s stats.” But what does KD actually think? That’s been a little less clear. He did however, say the following of his new home with the Golden State Warriors: “I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form. They make it about the players, they make it about the environment, so it was really an easy choice.”
Was this a veiled poke at Westbrook? He certainly seemed to think so. His response?
1 1. Loved - Kevin Durant
It seems hard to believe, but it wasn’t that long ago that Kevin Durant said the following to Russell Westbrook in his 2014 NBA MVP Award acceptance speech:
"I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and I’m the first to have your back, man, though it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you. I thank you so much, man. You make me better.”
Veteran former teammate Kendrick Perkins, who played with the pair for parts of five seasons, backs it up, and truly seems to mourn what has happened to former friends Westbrook and Durant. “I know both of them, they care for each other and love each other, despite the decision that KD made,” he said. “With me reading an article saying that they haven’t talked to each other, that bothers me. Because I know that their relationship off the court and on the court had grew way past that.”
So what happened? “I think they never really valued each other like that should have,” Perkins added. “I don’t think they ever realized and said, hey – I don’t think Russ ever realized and said, ‘Hey, man, I got Kevin Durant on my side. We could take over this league.’ And I never thought KD did vice versa. He never said, ‘Hey, I got Russell Westbrook on my side.’”
For better or for worse, its too late for that. But maybe its time for a new chapter in history, and MVP candidate Russell Westbrook won’t hesitate for a second to write it.
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