Day one of no Kevin Durant and the Thunder are saying all the right things. Especially Russell Westbrook, who spoke the media for a little over five minutes today with his trademark annoyance and defiance.
The assumption is, with Durant sidelined the next 6 to 8 weeks with a Jones fracture in his right foot, that Westbrook will morph into the most extreme version of himself and attempt to blitz every opponent alone every night. But Westbrook maintained on Monday he’s going to stay level and just play his game.
“It’s not about me. It’s about our team. I can’t win games by myself. I can’t do anything by myself,” Westbrook said. “I kind of want to take the attention off me and put it more on the team. Everybody keeps asking what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change. I think it’s more about our team and what we can do.”
The worry, at least for me, is that Westbrook will feel a bit too much responsibility if the Thunder struggle. As in, Durant was able to put the team on his back last year when I was out, why aren’t I doing the same? And with he himself coming off a season where he struggled with injuries and was even placed on a minute/back-to-back restriction, Westbrook needs to be mindful of not going overboard in November.
“We’re not asking Russell to be a 35-point scorer,” Scott Brooks said. “Obviously he’s going to be a scorer because he can and he does that at a high level. There will be games he might have 20, there will be games he’ll have 30 but there will also be some games where he has 15. He just has to continue to lead like he has been and that’s good enough. Everybody has to step up. It’s not one guy. You’re not going to replace Kevin with one guy. It’s the team getting better as a group is what I’m looking to replace him with.”
Westbrook, who of course missed 36 games last season, said his takeaways from watching Durant mutate into the Slim Reaper was that KD “just played his game.” But the other thing is, Westbrook can relate to what Durant’s going through.
“If anybody knows what it feels like, I would know,” Westbrook said. “I talked to Kevin, he’s in good spirits. He’s going to get back as soon as he can to help us out.”
As George Karl noted, Durant’s injury does present the Thunder with a unique opportunity to try and restructure themselves a bit to not be so 35 dependent. Maybe this can be a growing and learning experience so when Durant returns, he has more weapons and confidence in his teammates.
“One of the things I’m smart enough to realize is we’re not going to replace Kevin’s offensive efficiency, his scoring, his playmaking, his defense,” Brooks said. “But what we can do as a group is get better, so that when he does come back, when he’s ready to come back, we can be a better team.”
The Thunder are in a tough spot, having already seen their win total projected to drop anywhere from three to eight games. But Westbrook isn’t scared.
“What people?” Westbrook responded when asked about some in the media doubting the Thunder. “I never listen and I’m not listening to them now. I have confidence in my guys and they have confidence in me. I have confidence in everybody in this building and that’s all I can worry about, what’s going on inside this building and that’s it.”
Asked if the doubt adds any motivation, Westbrook fired back defiantly, “”I don’t need any motivation. My motivation is to try and come out and compete every night and be the best player I can possibly be.”
The Thunder have dealt with a bad run of luck the past couple of seasons, with Westbrook’s knee injury and Serge Ibaka’s calf injury derailing playoff runs. But Brooks noted the team feels well-prepared to handle adversity and isn’t interested in using any of them as an excuse.
“No one is feeling sorry for us,” Brooks said. “I can honestly say I did not receive any text messages from coaches around the league hoping to postpone the season. They’re not waiting for us.”