Clock ticking on Thunder’s Westbrook after another first-round exit

All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and the Thunder were bounced by the Trail Blazers in the first round of the West playoffs.

New postseason, more of the same for Russell Westbrook. The 30-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder point guard has had a rough go of it since the departure of fellow superstar Kevin Durant to the tune of consecutive first-round exits in that time span.

Westbrook, though, he was given the ultimate pass by media members, fans, and players who seemingly saw him as somewhat of a sympathetic figure when Durant proverbially spurned him at the alter for the hot new girl in town, i.e. the Golden State Warriors. Because of this, and the ferocious grit he plays with night in and night out, Westbrook became a media darling who willed his team to victory and the playoffs in spite of the loss of one of the top players in the world leaving.

However, his latest exploits have done him no favors and his shortcomings are now being magnified to the nth degree. For years now, Westbrook has had an ongoing disdain for local reporter, Berry Tramel, who writes for The Oklahoman. For reasons unknown to anyone outside of Westbrook, he refuses to acknowledge Tramel’s mere existence, to the tune of ignoring any question with a “next question” response. Tramel tried to throw a bone to this whole situation stating he’s not “100% innocent” being he may have provoked it with a “smart alec” response during an interview with Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype. But based on Tramel’s explanation, that’s not reason for Westbrook to be so curt.

While it is understandable for athletes to become annoyed with reporters for some of the questions asked, the reality is that it is part of their job. What Westbrook has done and has continued to do sets a dangerous precedent and has now made a local high school petty-like situation become national news. And to make matters worse, Westbrook was severely outplayed by Damian Lillard, who dropped 50 and called game and series with a 30-foot bomb (37-footer to be exact) over Paul George in the fifth and final game.

By comparison, the numbers are quite staggering. For the series, Westbrook shot an overall 36% from the field including a lackluster 32.4% from 3-point range. He tallied a respectable 22.8 PPG, albeit on 111 shots, in which he missed a grand total of 70 of them.

Lillard on the other hand has entered a new stratosphere, usurping Westbrook as a more elite player, and his stats — and overall play — proved that. For the series, Lillard shot 46.1% from the field and a blistering hot 48.1% from 3. That percentage is not inflated by low attempts either as he made 26 of 54 3-point attempts (10.8 per game). Not to mention again, Lillard hit the shot of shots to send Westbrook and the Thunder back to Oklahoma City for the rest of the offseason.

The main issue now is Westbrook and his future with the Thunder. He has four years remaining on his deal and the amounts are compelling for a player who has been labeled tough to coach and now a PR issue. Here is the contract breakdown:

2019-20: $38,506,432

2020-21: $41,358,814

2021-22: $44,211,146

2022-23: $47,063,478

If you’re good at math (or handy with a calculator), that’s a balance of $171,139,870 million. Guaranteed.

Keep in mind, Westbrook will be turning 34 in the last year of his contract. He did right in securing the bag last year, but the Thunder have a real mess on their hands if they can’t find a coach, or figure out a way to hone Westbrook in to play a style other than what he’s accustomed to. His shooting woes alone warrant him taking a more conservative approach. He could also use some understanding on playing with pace throughout the game — most importantly during late game situations.

The problem is Russ is Russ. He’s the same guy through and through, and an expectation of change is low, if at all.

The Thunder organization is largely to blame in this fiasco as well. They coddled Westbrook and built the hype machine of a player to pull up his lowly teammates after being dumped by his longtime teammate. They enabled and empowered him to be more than who he is and have done nothing to stop it — yet.

However, it may be too late. The local media is not one to be played with. The love affair with Westbrook being the loyal man to stick around and not leave for greener pastures has run its course. The continuous disrespect shown to men and women trying to do a job and now being humiliated nationally will not go over well in Oklahoma City much longer.

The real question is not a matter of if, but when. When will enough be enough? When will the local media turn on Westbrook and potentially run him out of town? The clock is ticking.