There’s this basketball monster, right. This harbinger of hastily considered destruction, a champion of controlled recklessness. It’s raided wardrobe for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and now all of Joseph’s coats are gone. This thing plays basketball like it’s heard of death but nahhhh, it doesn’t exist. It exercises near cliffs because where else would it exercise? It’s much cooler to exercise near cliffs. Everyone watches because it’s crazy that this thing could do all these cool exercises by this cliff and not be worried about getting hurt or anything. Some people think it’s stupid. Some people think it’s amazing. But they all watch.
One day it falls off a cliff. And it falls and falls and lands in the ravine and the people, even the ones who thought it was stupid, are sad for it. The cliffs were much cooler to visit when the basketball monster was hurling himself over by them. They’re not as interesting anymore.
It’s hurt for a little bit, but it gets better, soon, and it starts to climb back up. It gets to the top once more. Then it goes back to exercising near cliffs because, again, it’s just a whole lot cooler to exercise near cliffs. And the people come again. They all watch with renewed appreciation. Here’s this monster that just about killed itself doing the very thing that just about killed it. Some people that thought it was stupid don’t consider it stupid anymore and they’re excited to see it.
But soon it falls off the cliff again. And it falls and falls and lands in the ravine and the people are sad for it. But it gets up again, and soon it starts climbing. Now it’s almost to the top once more and everyone stands at the top of the cliffs and waits anxiously, unsure of what it’ll look like when it gets back.
The art department picture of this monster is this purple neon coated thing, green lasers forever rapidly darting around it as it moves, and you’re afraid to touch it because you know if you do it’ll kill you. It’s ears and mouth act as speakers and music seeps out from them, loudly. Fog follows it around. It’s wound up, some steroidal spring, ready to unleash its own highly personal brand of hell.
“Come, sit in the rim,” it’ll growl out, “I’ll put you there.”
* * *
There’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know if Westbrook will come back tonight or if they’ll hold him out a little longer. We don’t know how he’ll look when he does come back. We don’t know how the team will function with him back in tow. We don’t know if that well of spring and bounce is still as deep and full as it once was. We don’t know if we’re dealing with a player now who’s athleticism no longer spills out over the edges of some Big Gulp. Can the body play as angry as the mind will require it to?
Embracing unpredictability is absolutely nothing new with Westbrook. He’s long refused to fall into whatever cookie cutter establishment approved mold that everyone tried to fit him into his first few seasons. His game is not long for his position. That’s always been the case. The experience of watching Westbrook is directly proportional to his game. It’s euphoric at times. Other moments it’s angry. It’s always making you feel, though. He refuses to allow indifference to exist. Not about him. He’s too volatile for that. You’ll care one way or another.
He’s not interested in even attempting to cater to you to somehow make it easier for you to like or understand him. His game makes you make noises. Durant is almost always interested in what people think and why they think what they think. It’s important for him to be viewed as a good person. Nothing wrong with that. Westbrook, conversely, couldn’t possibly be bothered to care less. Durant will argue as to why a nickname doesn’t make sense. Westbrook’s going to tell you that you don’t get to talk to him anymore.
Westbrook refuses to explain himself, and in that he stirs up curiosity and opens himself up to interpretation from those that ache for story lines in a world increasingly run by either hyperbolic statements with little juice behind them, or vague, arbitrary questions that when examined with any kind of seriousness will prove to be nothing more than glorified, highly stylized click bate.
Will the Thunder be better with Westbrook?
Should they trade Westbrook?
Are the Thunder better without Westbrook?
Yes, no, yes.
Those are questions that get a producer or a writer mileage, absolutely, but the concept of ridding yourself of the 5th best player in basketball is absurd. Durant’s certainly not human, and he’s amazed in how he’s carried the squad, but aliens get tired, too.
* * *
Westbrook will not be what he’s capable of being at the end of the year if he does, in fact, come back tonight against the Heat. He’ll look rusty and out of sorts at times and he and Durant will have to figure out how to play music together again. But this can’t be overstated enough: the Thunder are lightyears more terrifying, lightyears better with Westbrook on the floor.
Reggie Jackson has been a fine replacement at times and every so often he’s looked something akin to a lower middle class man’s version of Russ, but anyone who hasn’t seen the waiving off of Durant as potential cause for alarm isn’t looking hard enough or hasn’t watched as many Thunder games as intently as they think they have.
When we talk about Westbrook, we talk about athleticism. Like he’s some collection of rubber bands that got together and all of a sudden turned human. That’s doing him a disservice. His mind is every bit as important. His success is in direct correlation to how he thinks about the game. Everything is permissible with Russ. Everything is possible. Everything is allowed. You don’t get to tell him a point guard can’t attack like that because he knows he can.
I’m not worried about his body as much as I’m worried about his mind. If he’ll still believe he can do anything. That’s what made his tireless attacking so devastating. He thought he was unstoppable, always, till the end. Calculation is boring.
Westbrook’s always played basketball like we all imagine we’d play it in our heads. When we were in our driveways lowering the goal to 7 ft. He plays how kids play, without thought of getting hurt. It’s his imagination that led to his success. Our dream state was his reality. I want it to still be that way when he gets back.