Russell Westbrook's loyalty to Thunder will only go so far

If you want to dream the nearly impossible dream and play fantasy general manager all the time, just know that Kristaps Porzingis and Russell Westbrook have trained together during the off-season and respect each other’s games and work habits.

That’s a good jumping off point for the Knicks, who have just the guy to attract future free agents to New York. And no, we’re not taking about the old coach with 11 rings.

In today’s NBA, the legend emeritus doesn’t quite move the needle like a young, rising star on the roster famously dubbed “the Unicorn” by Westbrook’s former teammate, Kevin Durant. That’s the same Durant who abruptly left Oklahoma City last July to chase championships with the Golden State Warriors.

In doing so, Durant left behind a stunned franchise and mesmerizing talent in Westbrook, who instead of forcing a trade out of OKC like many had anticipated, he decided to become the most popular man in the state by signing an extension. (That contract includes an opt clause, but why fuss over the little details.)

Russell Westbrook bringing his show, loyalty to MSG vs. Knicks

Westbrook is a triple-double waiting to happen and now has, not by design I might add, what every young star in the 90’s demanded: his very own team. Stephon Marbury got one. As did Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson. Together, those three collected zero championship rings and reached the NBA Finals onceā€¦unless you include McGrady’s final season as San Antonio’s 14th man.

The moral of the story is that being the Alpha Dog isn’t as much fun or prosperous without a star studded roster. LeBron James knew what he was doing when he joined Miami and eventually returned to Cleveland.

Curse Durant all you want for not embracing the spirit of competition yet it goes without saying that the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra is working out pretty well thus far.

Westbrook’s loyalty is commendable. And in the NBA’s “Super Team” era you hope it works out for both him and the small market Thunder. It won’t be easy.

Porzingis showing Knicks that he should command offense, not Melo

The Thunder entered Monday’s game against the Knicks with a 10-8 record which includes a 7-4 home mark. Westbrook is putting up MVP-like numbers: 31.2 points, 11.1 assists and 9.9 rebounds. But can you win big when your three best teammates are Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter? That’s a far cry from Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The Thunder roster, with Westbrook running the point, could reach the playoffs but realistically they look every bit like a one-and-done team.

Kristaps Porzingis could be a guy Westbrook would team up with.

Kristaps Porzingis could be a guy Westbrook would team up with.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

This OKC team no longer resembles the one that Miami defeated for LeBron’s first title. Durant was the unquestioned superstar, Westbrook was the sidekick and James Harden was – if you can believe it – the sixth man.

The mistake OKC made wasn’t losing Durant. The Thunder did everything it possibly could to re-sign Durant. In fact, had Durant played better in Game’s 6 & 7 of last year’s Western Conference Finals against Golden State, OKC would have faced Cleveland in the NBA Finals and Durant would have been at the Garden on Monday with Westbrook.

Porzingis to donate $500 per block to youth basketball program

The problem is that Harden should have been here as well. The Thunder made a disastrous move by trading Harden to the Houston Rockets on the eve of the 2012-13 season in exchange for role players and draft picks, one of whom became Adams, the starting center.

But the NBA isn’t like other sports. It is a star driven league and when you have a potential superstar like Harden you don’t trade him for supporting players unless you absolutely, positively have to. FYI: Harden has been the MVP of the first five weeks.

Out of a roster that once included Westbrook, Durant, Harden and Serge Ibaka, the only one that remains is Westbrook. At 28, he’s still in his prime and is absolutely the kind of tireless, no nonsense player you want on your team. He’s a throwback.

He’s also the player with the most value and if the Thunder ever decides to reboot the obvious move would be to trade Westbrook for high draft picks and/or established players.

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Or OKC can take the chance that after next season Westbrook, a L.A. kid with dreams of carving out a second career in the fashion world, will sign a long-term extension.

That may be a risk OKC is willing to make. Westbrook has been loyal before. But in two years, Porzingis could make the Knicks that much more attractive. It’s worth dreaming about.

Tags:
russell westbrook
kristaps porzingis
nba
new york knicks
oklahoma city thunder

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