This has been a highly debated topic for the past 2 and a half seasons. Would the Oklahoma City Thunder be better off without Russell Westbrook? There are many factors to consider here and a major positive that would support the notion that OKC needs Westbrook to be a championship contender is their quick 2nd round departure in last years NBA playoffs to Memphis after Westbrook went down with season ending knee surgery during a 1st round game against Houston. The Thunder still beat the Rockets in the series but could not handle the Grizzlies in the conference semi-finals losing the series (4 - 1).
Would OKC have won that series had Westbrook been healthy? It's an impossible question to answer but fans of the Thunder will swear til the end of time that they would have moved on to the NBA Finals as they did the previous season. I for one picked the Memphis Grizzlies before Westbrook went down so I personally don't buy into that notion.
Numbers don't tell the whole truth but here are two important statistics I believe are worth looking at. As we know, Russell Westbrook started this season on the bench as he recovered from his surgery paving the way for the talented Reggie Jackson to get noticed as the teams starting point guard. Westbrook suffered a set back again during the season giving Jackson even more playing time. Westbrook once again returned to the team February 20th of this calendar year and the Thunder struggled to produce lightning by losing a bunch of games after Westbrook's return. So here are the stats I was referring to:
The Thunder are (26 - 9) when Russell Westbrook starts at PG.
The Thunder are (22 - 8) when Reggie Jackson starts at PG.
*Not much of a difference if you ask me!
With that in mind and the fact that Westbrook isn't an ideal point guard, is it reasonable to trade an absolute star in Russell Westbrook and get back a very handsome reward for his departure? Another option could be moving Westbrook to SG or the 2 position as basketball analysts call it. But what about the trade? Is it valid? Do OKC fans want that? Does Kevin Durant want that? Are the coaches and management giving this serious thought? I think they should.
A lot of players will become available in the next couple of seasons that may fit the mold of the Thunder's style if they are to contend for titles. Westbrook was given a contract extension for $80 million two seasons ago before he became a free agent. The move nearly paid off as the Thunder made it to the Finals but lost to the Heat, their nemesis. So OKC will clear cap space the year after next when Westbrook contract expires but it may be time to strike while the iron is still somewhat hot.
Injuries have plagued the young star since April of 2013 but the key word is not injuries in this sentence. The key word is star and the second key word is young. The Thunder need to take advantage of their current situation. Yes, OKC is once again in the running for the NBA title as they swap the #1 seed in the Western Conference with the seasoned San Antonio Spurs weekly. But so far it hasn't proved to be enough.
I'm sure there are plenty of NBA franchises that would love to have Russell Westbrook on their team. He can be the focal point of another organization, he's that good. The problem is that his style of play clashes with Durant's style as players who need the ball in their hands to be successful. If the Thunder can find a buyer for Westbrook that has a player or players they can return to Oklahoma City's satisfaction then I think they need to pull the trigger. There's a load of huge names that will become free agents after this season and the following year as well. Teams that currently own these super stars may want to trade them away and get something special in return as opposed to letting them walk and getting nothing once their contract has expired.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder are to return to the NBA Finals and win a championship or two then they'll have to add players who can compliment Kevin Durant's game. Durant is widely recognized as the best player in basketball after King James. Westbrook's style clashes with the Thunder's real super star Kevin Durant. Dwayne Wade's style clashed with LeBron's a bit in Miami but they figured it out as Wade took a step back and handed the crown to LeBron James and allowed him to be the main focus of the Miami Heat. As a result they've won back to back titles. Either Westbrook does what Wade did or the Thunder need to trade him and bring in other talent that will help not only Durant as a player but also the team as a whole.