Culture of Hoops

Russell’s Revenge: How Russell Westbrook Can Get Back At Kevin Durant

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

 

When Kevin Durant announced he was joining his biggest foe, the Golden State Warriors, it said two things—I want a championship ring as soon as possible and I cannot do that with Russell Westbrook. No matter what Westbrook says it has to piss him off that Durant left. It has to piss him off that Durant joined a team that the Thunder should have beaten in the Western Conference finals. It has to piss him off that Durant dropped him for Stephen Curry who he euthanized in those same Western finals.

Expect to see Westbrook take all this anger out on the poor souls tasked with stopping him next season. As for what jersey Westbrook will be donning for his revenge tour is not yet known. He is under contract with the Thunder for this season, and has said he wishes to play out the length of his contract and make any further decisions at the end of the season. All indications from the Thunder point to Westbrook playing in a different uniform sooner rather than later.

Typically the main motivation for a player hitting free agency is a big payday, a better chance at winning and an upgrade in location. Westbrook will look for all of that, but he might have some added motivation. He might just want to make Durant’s life a living hell.

To successfully accomplish this Westbrook must do two things:

  1. Identify a Warrior killer
  2. Join a team where he is still the top dog

What the f–k is a Warrior killer you ask? It’s a player that creates such a mismatch for the Warriors that even Draymond Green’s foot cannot stop it. What makes the Warriors so damn good—especially with Durant now on board—is their ability to switch on virtually everything. Outside of LeBron James they can slow down just about any guard or wing. What they cannot stop are the seven-footers who play like guards also known as stretch fives.

Think Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, and DeMarcus Cousins. These four have the ability to handle the ball if needed and can dominate Draymond down low or shoot over Durant on the perimeter. On defense they protect the rim and can guard Curry or Klay Thompson on the three-point line much like Kevin Love did in Game 7. With that in mind let’s go through Westbrook’s list of potential destinations and see how they fit the criteria.

Trade Destinations

Staying with the Thunder and defeating the Warriors in the playoffs would be poetic justice, but it seems as if Sam Presti is done rolling the dice. The Thunder will in all likelihood trade their final star before the season and get as much in return on investment as they can. If Presti really wants to stick it to Durant he can will try to get Westbrook to the team that has the best chance to knock off the Warriors while snagging the best deal.

 Minnesota Timberwolves

Outgoing: Russell Westbrook
Incoming: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, 3 first-round draft picks

The revitalized Wolves should be at the top of the list. They have everything Westbrook needs to down the Warriors. A defensive-minded coach just as crazy as him, a star wing player in Andrew Wiggins, and above all a true Warrior killer in Karl-Anthony Towns. The reigning Rookie of the Year gave us a preview of the devastation he can cause the Warriors last season in an upset win at The Oracle.

He can post up anyone, shoot from outside, and pass if the double team comes. On defense he’s locking down the paint and guarding any wing on a pick-and-roll switch much like he did to Curry last time they played. You can copy and paste everything Towns does and apply it to Porzingis in New York and Anthony Davis (who also had success against the Warriors in their first round playoff series two years ago). The only difference? Towns has a fellow rising star in Wiggins flanking him.

The pieces to make the biggest gamble in recent NBA history are here. The Wolves can send the Thunder Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and a slew of picks for Westbrook and pray he re-ups in the summer. Both Westbrook and the Thunder get what they want. For Westbrook he now has a redesigned team that can take down his former brother turned foe. For the Thunder they land their point guard replacement (Dunn), a dunking extraordinaire and sixth man (LaVine) plus draft picks.

Boston Celtics

Outgoing: Russell Westbrook
Incoming: Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, 2017 first-round pick, 2018 Brooklyn Nets first-round pick

This is a deal that would be eerily similar to the James Harden trade in 2012 and might cause Thunder fans to start convulsing. The Celtics are the biggest threat to trade for Westbrook thanks to the war chest of assets Celtics GM Danny Ainge put together over the last five years. The trouble with this potential deal is getting Westbrook to commit to the Celtics past this season.

Sure Brad Stevens is probably going to take the torch from Gregg Popovich and become the best coach in basketball, but after that what is the Celtics’ appeal? If Westbrook wanted a team of defensive minded role players who will let him take all the shots he will simply re-up with the Thunder. Yes, Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas can ball, but is that motivation enough to live in Boston? Westbrook gives off that big city vibe so getting him to do the smaller city team without a generational talent to pair with is a tough sell. I wouldn’t completely write the Celtics, but they have the toughest sell.

Free Agent Destinations

Los Angeles Lakers

You can just as easily put the Lakers in the trade destinations section, but would there even be a team if they had to trade for Westbrook? Ask Carmelo Anthony how that turned out for him in 2013. If the Thunder were talking a trade the bare minimum would be D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and draft picks. The best bet for the Lakers is to focus on themselves and keep peering over to see what Westbrook does at season’s end.

Luke Walton has a nice nucleus to kick of his regime with already so sacrificing that for a star will go against everything he learned in Golden State. Certainly Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Ingram, and Julius Randle are not comparable to what the Warriors had. The sum of those parts however can turn into something special. Throw Westbrook into the mix and the Clippers immediately become second fiddle again and the Lakers skyrocket up the power rankings. What they don’t do is become a viable threat to the Warriors. The best big on the Lakers is Randle followed by….yeah.

New York Knicks

You know what team does have the quintessential Warrior killer? The New York f—-g Knicks! Yes the Knicks finally have something that appeals to a top flight free agent. Fan bias aside the Knicks can make the best pitch to Westbrook. In addition to pairing with Porzingis—who will hopefully continue his meteoric rise and someone Westbrook is reportedly a fan of—and getting the torch passed down from Melo, the Knicks appeal to his off the court life.

In case you are blind or oblivious Westbrook loves the fashion world. He has already served as a creative director for True Religion and makes his arena entrances his personal runway for suspect clothing. What better place for a fashion lover than the fashion capital of the world? Now back to the basketball side.

The Knicks may be the butt of a lot of jokes, but they are not the disaster they were just two years ago. Their supporting cast headlined by Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings (assuming he re-signs after the season) in addition to Melo and Porzingis is good enough for Westbrook to go to war against LeBron and his former brother in arms Durant. We will get a preview of what the Knicks can sort of look like with Westbrook as Derrick Rose plays the knock off version this season.

The Other Guys

San Antonio Spurs

Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard on the same floor might make Steve Kerr shart at first. Then once he realizes LaMarcus Aldridge is not about that life he will calm down and welcome the challenge. This would make Spurs vs. Warriors must see television, but the lack of a true mismatch would keep the Warriors alive.

Miami Heat

Pat Riley quietly had his worst offseason in his executive career. Durant did not entertain him. Dwyane Wade told him to take his lowball offers and shove it up his ass. That’s not exactly how you’d want to go out if you’re the guy who recruited names like LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Alonzo Mourning in their prime. There is no Warrior killer on the Heat, but if anyone can swing a deal its Riley not to mention Cousins is also a free agent in 2018.

Well there it is Russ. Whatever decision you make just know Durant and his new friends will be watching.

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