AP Photo/David J. Phillip
The image of the gunslinger is one of classic American lore. A grizzled veteran of saloon shootouts and vigilante justice, he walks with a distinct swagger and carries himself with pride, knowing he is merely a poker game gone awry from coming face to face with his demise.
It seems that gunslingers will always dictate the history of the West. The barroom brawl that just concluded in Houston has left one team dazed and the other unfazed.
Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press
Bow your heads. Let us take a moment to celebrate the relentless devotion that Winnipeg has for its hockey team, and lament the fact that none of us will ever love anything nearly so much as that city loves the Jets.
“And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.” – Ayrton Senna
Even more so than usual, I’ve been thinking about Russell Westbrook. Let me start over: I’ve been thinking about Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans’ uphill charge into the Western Conference playoffs. Standing in their way, of course, for most of the second half of the season has been the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have spent the majority of their injury-riddled season as presumed playoff participants. As Westbrook continues his quest to personally decimate everything in his path, Davis has led the Pelicans to the eighth and final spot with a week to go. New Orleans holds the tiebreaker but plays a much tougher schedule. The Thunder have Westbrook; does any team need more than that?
Watching Russell Westbrook over the past two months has inspired a litany of think-pieces attempting to analyze what makes such a player tick, and at what point that tick becomes the soundtrack to a time bomb that goes off every 24 seconds. Westbrook is whatever you want him to be, and he isn’t; the love he attracts is in direct correlation to the immense hatred he inspires. His gallops to the rim, nonchalantly ignoring every open teammate while realizing that he has a better chance 1-on-5 than they do unguarded, are both crass and brave, simultaneously shattering mirrors and creating new ones. His playing style is iconoclastic (and his style is iconoclastic, for better or for worse), giving the middle finger to both old-school team devotees and disciples of statistical analysis. Basically, at his size and with the limited means at his disposal, what he’s doing should be impossible, but Russell Westbrook doesn’t share our reality.
Yes, yes, yes: Russell HUSTLE BUSTLE Westbrook hails from a different dimension. But there will be more on him later. The age of the Brow is upon us, but you already knew. To have 39 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a game but be overshadowed is a travesty which can only exist in today’s NBA given the embarrassment of talent in the league. Elsewhere, Wesley Matthews is out for the season, and Ray Allen says he won’t play this season but will re-assess his options over the summer.
Klay Thompson enjoyed a record-setting 37-point quarter last week against the Sacramento Kings, sending the internet into a frenzy and reminding people that Steph Curry is not the only #heatcheck member of the NBA’s best team. Not to be outdone, Kyrie Irving put up 55 points against the Blazers without the help of LeBron James. Elsewhere, Damian Lillard of that aforementioned Blazers team is thankful to his detractors for not being an All-Star, and DeMarcus Cousins, noted first-time All-Star, corrects a writer on Instagram.
The NBA announced its All-Star starters this week, with a certain pair of Spanish hermanos at the forefront. Interestingly but not surprisingly, Steph Curry beat out LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the highest vote-getter, and the Eastern Conference has an entirely new backcourt for the first time since 2000. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant, destroyer of efficiency ratings, has become Kobe Bryant, destroyer of his own rotator cuff, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury has the Blazers reeling.
Trading away team headcases is a time-honored NBA tradition. From Dennis Rodman’s Detroit exit in 1993 (and then from San Antonio to Chicago in 1995) to Ron Artest’s unceremonious trade out of Indiana in 2005, getting rid of serviceable but troublesome players allows both teams and players to move on from the skeletons of a marriage gone awry. In situations like these, a player’s future success (Rodman’s with the later three-peat Bulls, Artest’s with the Lakers) tends not to cast the trade in a bad light because the team had decided it simply could not function the same way anymore.
On Monday, two teams expurgated veritable Anthony Fremonts, as the Cleveland Cavaliers dealt Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder while acquiring J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks as part of a three-team trade which also involved Iman Shumpert. Both Smith and Waiters had endured franchise-altering waves in the last few months, and now each is set to test exactly how much a change of scenery can do to help a player’s psyche, to the betterment or detriment of their new teams.
This week, John Wall can do no wrong, ever again, and if any of you lousy, no good, tax-evading slobs speak ill of him in any capacity, there will be repercussions. Don’t do it. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant calls out his teammates with a branded metaphor, and both the brand and his teammates responded. Also, the Warriors have come out to play-ee-ayyyy, and we’re completely ignoring the tour of glorified British welfare recipients.
Courtesy of hoopdiamonds.com
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
At this point, we have become accustomed to superstar injuries in sports. For every Cal Ripken, Jr., there are dozens of Paul Georges, each shining intensely before falling at a most inopportune time. In the cases of players like George, who can be the only contributor in specific areas most of the time, the team surrounding the star can only do its best to plug the gap and hope for a miraculous turnaround time. For those teams, season-altering injuries often spell disaster, leaving bloated pundits and defeated fans to point fingers.
What’s happened to the Oklahoma City Thunder should by no means be largely season-altering, nor should the loss of reigning NBA MVP and scoring champion Kevin Durant cause immense concern for the long-term prospects of the team. The operative word in that sentence is “should,” twice over, because what we may witness is an opportunity seized on the parts of both head coach Scott Brooks and the man who will dictate the Thunder’s fortunes for at least the next six to eight weeks, point guard Russell Westbrook. How Oklahoma City responds to the temporary loss of its hero may unlock the door to the Western Conference and reveal the true potential of one of the league’s most talented and divisive players.