Happy Friday, friends.
I’ve got some Thunder thoughts from the last few days. Let’s get straight to it.
The PG/Russ Bromance
With Paul George and Russell Westbrook in Vegas for the USA Basketball minicamp, PG has spent some time with the media and explained his reasoning for staying with the Thunder on a long-term deal. He’s spoken about how he doesn’t need a big city at this point in his career, his unfinished business after the way last season ended, and more. However, the most prevailing theme in his comments has been the full-blown bromance between himself and his point guard.
A great PG quote about Westbrook’s recruitment via Sam Amick of USA Today:
“It wasn’t even about him going beyond and being extra. It was about him being himself, him being genuine, him being authentic, him being real. Nothing about him is fake, and that’s the people I want to be around, somebody who’s going to tell it like it is, somebody who’s going to push you, somebody who’s going to encourage you, somebody who’s going to motivate you, and vice versa. That’s how I am. It just felt genuine. It felt like a really strong and great relationship being around him. It didn’t take him to recruit me. It didn’t take him asking me to be here, asking me to be a part of the team going forward. None of that ever came up.”
And because he knows how counter-productive all of this is to a long-running narrative, Westbrook apparently had this to say when he saw George sitting down with Amick in the first place:
“Tell them the truth,” Westbrook hollered at George. “Tell them I’m a bad teammate. That’s what they want to hear.”
Proof that if you look long and hard enough, you can find someone that loves you despite your faults and reputation. Sure, you might leave dirty clothes in the bathroom or take a few too many shots from time to time. Your Paul George is totally cool with that and is probably waiting for you to rescue him/her somewhere in Indiana.
With Carmelo Anthony officially gone from the Thunder, it feels appropriate to look back and give him some credit. While the entire “OK3” experiment was a flaming mess, Melo has been targeted a little too frequently over the last few months.
Was he good in OKC? I mean, no. Not really.
Was the entire season his fault? Absolutely not.
To Melo’s credit, he did try to change his game. And although the efforts didn’t amount to much, he waited until after the season to unload his frustration about the role he occupied with the Thunder. That shouldn’t be a big thing, but in today’s sports world it truly is. He could have torpedoed team chemistry at first sign of displeasure, but he kept his head down and his mouth shut — and apparently enjoyed the process a little, telling ESPN’s Jemele Hill, “We did everything together. We sat down every single game and talked. Before games, we talked. Our relationship went deeper than anybody would ever know.”
His unrelenting self-belief aside, Melo was a model teammate in Oklahoma City and went out of his way to make it easier for the Thunder to move him. He didn’t have to waive the no-trade clause, but he did — allowing Sam Presti to get a nice return on a questionable investment and add depth to a roster in desperate need of it. When you also consider that he may have indirectly influenced Westbrook’s extension last summer and George’s just a few weeks ago, the entire thing becomes a little more palatable.
In the end, I’m very pleased to see Melo moving on and look forward to watching this Thunder team without him on it. That being said, there are no hard feelings on this end and he should be welcomed with warm applause when introduced in the Rockets’ starting lineup next season. (You know he’s starting)
So Kevin Durant is having himself quite a week, huh? Between the CJ McCollum podcast/ensuing Twitter war, more heated social media exchanges with fans, and a few awkward interviews at yesterday’s Team USA minicamp, good ol’ KD is in midseason form here in late July. None of this is necessarily shocking at this point, but it’s wild to consider this is the same guy who used to sheepishly walk into his post-game pressers wearing a backpack and shirts buttoned all the way to the top. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Kevin is a good dude — which makes all of this stuff even more confusing to watch.
Aside from the continued erratic behavior, today’s interesting bit of KD-related drama didn’t come from Kevin himself, but rather Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports. Speaking to Colin Cowherd on today’s episode of The Herd, Mannix said he thinks Durant will enter free agency next summer and take a long look at……Oklahoma City?
The quote for those that can’t watch/listen:
“After next season, he’s going to have $80 million dollars in his pocket from the last three years and, probably, three championships. So, at 30-years-old, Kevin Durant is basically going to have a blank canvas — he can do whatever he wants, knowing his legacy is secure. No question, there will be a lot of teams out there trying to recruit him and I think Kevin Durant wants to hear those recruitments. I think Kevin Durant will be open-minded next summer when it comes to where he wants to go… But I keep going back to Oklahoma City. And I keep going back to the fact that everything we know about Kevin Durant — the sensitivities, how much he hates the fact that people say he jumped on Steph Curry’s bandwagon, and the fact that there’s been no bridge burned with Oklahoma City. The relationship with Russell Westbrook seems to be the best it’s been since he left Oklahoma City. I know, Colin, that there’s some financial gymnastics that you have to do to get a Kevin Durant on the roster, but I really believe, come end of the year, he’s going to take a long look at Oklahoma City.”
So a few things here:
- Some Thunder fans are quick to jump on their high horses and claim KD would never be welcomed back — that’s just foolish. Drop the self-righteous act and admit that if he wanted to come back, you’d glow with excitement. Even if you weren’t at first, that would change the first time he pulled up from five feet behind the three-point line in transition and hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
- Mannix says there was “no bridge burned with Oklahoma City” and I’m not entirely sure I agree with that sentiment. While I do believe Sam Presti and the Thunder front office would be thrilled to have him back, there’s no telling how deep the emotional wounds truly run. After all the cheap shots from his side, Westbrook’s Now I Do What I Want stuff, and the human being dressed like a giant cupcake parading around Chesapeake Energy Arena, the bridge is, at the very least, smoldering. Plus, I don’t even know if Russ would be cool with a reunion at this point.
- Lastly — and Mannix touches on this — there’s the whole, you know, money thing. Mannix brushes it off as “financial gymnastics” but it’s probably more appropriately described as “financial Olympics” at this point. I’m talking floor routine, pole vaulting, sprinting, swimming, people throwing javelins — all that. As of right now, the Thunder projects to be a little more than $47 million over the salary cap next summer. Adding Durant is really far-fetched for a number of reasons but the finances are a monster blow to the odds here unless he’s feeling really generous.
So what does it all mean? Nothing, I reckon. Durant returning to Oklahoma City would be a dramatic final segment in the eventual 30-for-30 but this is absolutely nothing to hold your breath over. If he leaves Golden State to salvage his reputation, jumping back into Thunder blue isn’t his only option. All he’d really need to do is sign anywhere else and all is right in the world again. Given the history, bad blood, and current state of Thunder finances, this looks like nothing more than an entertaining offseason talking point. Would be cool — but so would a lot of other things that won’t ever happen.
USA Minicamp Tweets
Some random stuff from around Twitter that you may or may not find interesting…
PG handing out buckets:
Smooth. Not bad for a guy two months removed from a knee scope.
We’ve got Russ impersonating James Harden:
Rich, warm, compelling.
Alright, that’s enough. Enjoy your Friday.