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Mr. Triple-Double, also known as Russell Westbrook, has been under fire from everybody these days. He’s a big-city kid who stayed loyal to the Oklahoma City franchise in the middle of nowhere and spurned his hometown Lakers from ever getting the chance to sign him. However, things are not as glamorous as they were a couple years ago.
“Probably the second-worst contact in the league, behind (John) Wall,” an NBA executive told me about Westbrook.
The second-worst contract in the league? Westbrook? When would anyone have ever expected that to come out of NBA front-office personnel? He’s averaged a triple-double the last three seasons, which is unheard of. However, his team has also won just four playoff games in that span. Three first-round exits in the last three seasons.
One of Westbrook’s ex-teammates watched the series closely, and is still riding with his former point guard.
“I’m still taken a player with Russ’s tenacity,” Anthony Morrow told Amico Hoops.
Morrow played with Westbrook and the Thunder for two and a half years from 2014-17. The two full seasons Morrow was there, he was a productive role player for the Kevin Durant and Westbrook-led Thunder.
Pundits this season have claimed the team performed better when Paul George was the leader. When George took more shots than Westbrook the Thunder are better, or so they say.
“Russ is way more of an intense person when it comes to winning games and locking in,” Morrow said.
Morrow doesn’t look at the intensity as a bad thing. In fact, he’s seen the intensity up close and how it can affect the team. Westbrook is passionate, and as the leader his emotions can carry over to the practice court or inside the locker room. Therefore, the rest of the players are more on edge about not blowing assignments and doing their jobs.
“I wouldn’t say it’s like people don’t want to come to work intense,” Morrow said. “It’s not like that.”
Others have given Westbrook the blame for Durant bailing on being beloved Oklahoma City and heading for greener pastures with the Golden State Warriors, a team that is loose, shares the ball and has an elite coach. Durant is not intense like him, and others view him leaving as the belief that he couldn’t win a championship with Westbrook as his co-pilot.
“It wasn’t as much to do with Russ as the media made it look like at all, I know that for a fact,” Morrow said.
“He wanted to build on his legacy, he wanted to win. He felt like we tried, 10 years, it ain’t work… I could tell you that that’s how he was thinking about that.”
Most of the decade, they played for Scott Brooks as their coach, but for their final season together they played with Billy Donovan. The two-time national champion at the University of Florida has received NBA interest in the past, and even agreed to be the Orlando Magic’s coach in 2007, before bailing on the agreement.
His first time coaching in the NBA was one of the most challenging jobs in league history. Championship-or bust was the ultimate expectation having two of the top ten players in the world on his roster. Coaching college phenoms is a lot different than NBA superstars, and everyone knows that.
Morrow doesn’t think he came into the fire as aggressive as he should have been on a team full of personalities.
“A great guy. I love him,” he said.
“I was just interested to see after a few weeks when stuff get bad is he really going to call people out? And he didn’t really do that. Not to the people that he should’ve been doing it, too.”
The Thunder organization is known as a first-class origination, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flaws. It’s not all Westbrook’s fault, and maybe he has become somewhat of a scapegoat for the franchise’s lack of success.
“Russ is already an icon,” Morrow said. “In 20 years, we going to be talking about Russ and celebrating Russ probably even more than we celebrate Allen Iverson.”
The issue lies in the fact that his game which is predicated on once in a generational athleticism, isn’t going to last forever. By the second month of the 2019-20 season, Westbrook will be 31. Father Time always wins.
At this point, will he ever be able to capture that elusive championship that would solidify his greatness?
“He’s a top-five highest-paid player in the NBA, and he’s lost a step,” the NBA executive said.
During the final stages of his prime he will have to become a better shooter, and Morrow who has the 16th highest 3-point percentage in NBA history, thinks his form is actually very good.
“It should go in at a higher clip,” he said. “I used to always tell him straight up, straight down.”
Every player who has ever played with Westbrook, always has positive things to say, it seems. The individual greatness of his game has already been proven, but now it’s up to him to make the proper adjustments to ultimately lead his team to a championship.