Recently, I just finished watching the greatest television show in history, The Wire. So right now, I take and every opportunity I can get to talk about it. Someone mentions the Baltimore Ravens and five minutes later I’m knee deep talking about Prop Joe and the co-op. It’s getting kind of ridiculous, I’ll admit.
And after the Thunder beat the Celtics without Kevin Durant or Jeff Green, Bill Simmons had an interesting tweet. Basically, he was asking if we could have a potential Avon-Stringer situation with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. What? Two of my top current interests colliding? I have to write about that!
But it’s a question on the minds of Thunder fans and really, NBA fans everywhere right now, even if they don’t want to say it. Could Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant be too good for each other? Could they clash? I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about that as I watched Westbrook carry the Thunder to a number of wins as he dropped 36, 43 and 38 points while KD stood by. Truly, the comparison kind of sort of fits. Or potentially fits.
The quick summary is this: Avon Barksdale is a drug kingpin in West Baltimore. His right-hand man is Russell “Stringer” Bell (ohmygosh, RUSSELL!), his best friend over the years. Together, the two build a drug empire that basically rules Baltimore. But after Avon is sent to prison, Stringer has control for the time being. Stringer has a different vision, wanting them to become more business. Avon though, sums it up by saying “I ain’t no suit-wearin’ bit-nessman like you. I’m just a gangsta I suppose.” They both wanted the same thing, just different ways.
Eventually, they end up falling completely apart while seemingly staying together. They just get too big for each other. They get too important. And I think some can see a similar fate approaching Westbrook and Durant. Or to a lesser extent, maybe just a takeover in who the Thunder’s best player really is.
As for an alpha dog battle, I say no way. Mainly for one simple reason: Durant isn’t Avon. KD doesn’t care about his media perception, his stats (corners) or how he gets to greatness. He cares about winning. Like Avon, he cares about family. Durant isn’t a lip service guy. Him saying Russ is an MVP candidate or even admitting that he’s fine with Westbrook being the best player on the team isn’t just KD saying the right thing. He means it. KD would gladly step aside if that’s what was in the best interest of his team. He has no problem playing first, second or third banana. He’s the leader of the team and that’s what leaders do. Tim Duncan was The Man in San Antonio, but that didn’t mean that Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili couldn’t step up and have big games or even seasons. It’s part of what can make a great player a great champion. Avon wouldn’t ever move over. But KD would.
And really, there’s no indication Westbrook would go the way of Stringer and try and assume control. Westbrook is too smart for that. No team can really function properly with two alpha dogs. We’re seeing that proven well in Miami right now. Oklahoma City is different because Westbrook and Durant play different positions and different roles. They do different things on the court. Westbrook has no problem deferring to Durant and Durant doesn’t mind doing it back. Think about the five or six times Westbrook has had an open fast break dunk but instead dropped off a pass to KD to “get him going”. You think Westbrook would do that if he wanted to take over?
(Then again, here’s a thought since we’re playing up this comparison: Stringer tried to do the same for Avon. He tried to prop him up and let him have everything. Remember when Avon got out of jail and Stringer had the new condo for him and then sent girls in to see him? Maybe that’s like Russ setting KD up. But then again, I think that’s stretching this thing way too far.)
(Heads up: some NSFW language in the following clip)
Really, I think this is one of those things that’s becoming an assumed issue, manufactured by the fears of fans and the wild ideas of the media. On the outside, it kind of feels like Westbrook is making this his team. Durant has struggled some and Russ has carried the Thunder. But to me, all that means is that instead of Oklahoma City being 10-9, it’s 13-6. And I don’t even think it’s so much about Westbrook and Durant fighting for control of their team, so much as fighting for who might be the best player on the team. And if that’s the case, isn’t that a great problem to have?
I almost feel kind of stupid that I’m even writing 1,500 words about this issue that most definitely doesn’t exist, but is only being talked about because it’s something to talk but. Alas.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t eventually be too good for each other. Remember Kobe saying all the right things when his was with Shaq? They had good times together, winning three titles. But eventually, they had an Avon-Stringer type meltdown. Kobe wanted his turn and sent Shaq off to get his way. Honestly though, give me three titles and I’m not sure I’d totally care what happens after that.
I don’t think we have a double alpha dog situation in OKC though. We might in five years, but right now, no way. These guys love each other too much and are on the same path. They’ve all got the same vision. Kobe and Shaq tasted the top. Avon and Stringer too. After they got there, they wanted more for themselves. Westbrook and Durant are the two kids still coming up together. They haven’t done anything yet. They don’t have a reason to start battling for control. They need each other first. They aren’t searching for their own. They’re searching for what’s best for the group. I mean, here we are wondering about what we’ve all dreamed about. The Thunder has maybe the best second banana in the league right now and we’re worried he might be too good? What’s wrong with us?
For every Stringer, for every Kobe, there’s a Scottie Pippen. Guys that understand who they are and what they need to do. For every Avon, a Tim Duncan. And I think, a Kevin Durant. They are the de facto leaders because they know how to handle these things. They understand how to manage teammates while still being the alpha dog. Just because Durant has started slower than expected doesn’t mean we’re seeing a changing of the guard. I mentioned it in another post, but KD’s numbers this November are almost identical to last season’s November. The only difference is, Westbrook was able to carry the team which meant we’ve got a better record this time around.
Now could Westbrook’s stellar play be throwing KD off his rhythm some? It’s possible, but unlikely. I think it’s simply an issue of Durant missing shots he typically makes, plus him forcing the issue a bit, but I guess he could be pressing to try and match Westbrook. I vote we let December play out before we start making any big giant conclusions.
This all really comes down to if Westbrook has a desire to be The Man, to be an alpha dog, to be Avon. Does he want to own this team? Does he want to take over? Nothing gives me that indication. All I see is a team with two really, really good players and best of all, they get along and know how to play together. Which is something I think most everyone else in the league would love to have.
KD and Westbrook are friends. They care about each other. Like Avon and Stringer. But what separates them, is that they BOTH care about family. They both care about their team. Westbrook and Durant’s lockers are right next to each other in the Thunder’s locker room. I don’t think that’s an accident. They know that right now, each of their ships are hitched to each other. To get to where they want to be, they need each other.
We can worry about what might happen, but I think it’s nothing more than fans conjuring up conflict that doesn’t exist. And it’s not even necessarily conflict, but I almost think people are worried about the prospect of Westbrook being better than Durant, as if that would be some horrible thing. We all want the same thing. We want wins. And we need both guys playing their best to get there.
But if you hear Russ whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” in the locker room KD, RUN.