Nathaniel Friedman of GQ: “Somewhere along the line, all that changed. Maybe it was Kevin Durant’s exit, and Westbrook’s subsequent decision to stay with the Thunder, that imbued Russ with moral fervor. While Russ himself may have cared very little about averaging a triple-double for the season, his pursuit was the biggest NBA story of 2016-17, casting his relentless, unyielding style of play in a whole new light. With an otherwise unremarkable Thunder team heading to the playoffs as the sixth seed in the West, it’s hard to criticize Westbrook for playing like a one-man team. And it certainly hasn’t hurt that Russ is now arguably the single most marketable figure in the league. The one-time misfit is now the poster child for fully-realized human potential. No longer a cult figure or an anti-hero, Russell Westbrook is now front and center in basketball’s cosmology.”
Lee Jenkins profiles Sam Presti: “The plane landed, Presti raced home to grab a shower, and then held an evening press conference in which he effusively thanked Durant for nearly a decade of service. While praise poured into Presti’s phone from corporate leaders—marveling at the GM’s grace in what could have been a Comic Sans moment—he and his staff holed up in a conference room at the Thunder’s D-League headquarters. The practice court at their main facility was being resurfaced and the fumes were unbearable, but they had to work. A roster crafted around two megastars was down to one, and nobody knew how to build around Westbrook because he’d never been a leading man. When LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami as a free agent in 2010, the Cavaliers salvaged a crucial sign-and-trade that netted two future first-round picks, two seconds and a massive trade exception. Oklahoma City recouped nothing for Durant. Officials listed the names of remaining free agents on a board. Everybody of interest was gone. The board might as well have been blank.”
Micah Adams of ESPN Stats: “Whether you’re in the corner of Westbrook, Harden, James or Leonard, there are legitimate cases to be made for a handful of stars. And while weaving MVP narratives with cherry-picked numbers can be done for any of the aforementioned supernovas, the odds here are on Westbrook, who delivered a season that, according to game score, would rank among the very best of any MVP winner.”
Oscar will be in the house tonight, and there will be a pregame ceremony.
Jason Concepcion of The Ringer: “The incorrect response is always any honest answer. The purpose of “How are you?,” as a purely rhetorical question, is to gauge whether a person is operating at a baseline level of emotional control or whether they’re going to make things weird by accurately expressing their inner turmoil. And that’s why I love Russell Westbrook’s lies. He’s like every other person in the world who says he doesn’t care: [Extremely Ron Howard Voice] Actually, he does.”
Ben Golliver of SI.com: “Russell Westbrook takes second thanks to his eye-popping individual numbers, including his vaunted triple-double mark, and his clutch play. Kawhi Leonard grabs third for carrying the Spurs to 60+ wins in the first year of the post-Duncan era, scaling his scoring and usage rate up to alpha dog levels, maintaining strong efficiency and impact numbers despite having less help than previous seasons, and logging a career-high in minutes played. LeBron James, who has posted career-highs in rebounding and assists while continuing to look like the best all-around player in the game, checks in at fourth due to Cleveland’s uninspired second-half play and unimpressive win total. With Kevin Durant missing a quarter of the season due to a knee injury, Stephen Curry rounds out the ballot. The two-time MVP’s “down year” saw him average more points than his 2015 MVP season, shoot 40+% on threes, and lead the league in plus-minus for the third time in four seasons while helping Golden State post the league’s best record and top point differential for the third straight season.”
Erik Horne: “But entering Tuesday’s game, Oladipo was 0-of-3 in the final 30 seconds of games decided by two points or less due to limited opportunities to shoot compared to Westbrook’s 7-of-25. Chalk one up for Oladipo. No one was cheering harder for the 24-year-old shooting guard than Westbrook. In the fourth quarter, Oladipo had the ball poked away for his eighth turnover, but immediately returned fire the next possession with two offensive rebounds and a putback to extend the Thunder’s lead to 89-85.”