“Second best” is a term that Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are all too familiar with. Durant has consistently been second best in the MVP column, next to Lebron James and the team itself, despite their prospects of being number one, have fallen short to teams like the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs when it comes to competing for the title. With such a talented, young roster, a solid head coach in Scott Brooks, and a super star like Kevin Durant leading the team, it’s a wonder why the Thunder have yet to claim the number one spot.
Kevin Durant emerged on the NBA scene in 2007 as he was drafted as the second overall pick out of the University of Texas to the Seattle Supersonics, who became the Oklahoma City Thunder the following year. Standing at 6 ft 9 in, weighing 240 lbs and having an outrageous wingspan of 7 ft. 4 in, Durant quickly became a notable player in the NBA. Winning Rookie of the Year in 2008, Durant added a few more titles to his column after making four straight appearances in the NBA All Star game and being the leading scorer of the NBA for three years running. For anyone who has seen Durant play or has seen him interviewed, the best way to describe this 25-year-old’s persona would be humble and unassuming. Although it’s refreshing to see a talented professional athlete that shows humility, politeness isn’t necessarily the kind of quality that brings home championship titles.
Every year, the Thunder have been placed in the category as being one of the best teams in the league, however they are never able to perform. This has brought into question KD’s capability of leading this team to victory. Sure, this man is more than capable of putting points on the board and winning games, but he doesn’t show the ferocity or passion that player’s like Lebron or Kobe exhibit when they are leading their team to NBA titles. Although this lack of fire in Durant’s playing style can most likely be attributed to the fact that he’s a young player, not to mention an all around nice guy, many people attribute this lack of leadership to the ever rocky relationship that Kevin Durant has with has right hand man, Russell Westbrook.
If I had to choose one word to describe Westbrook, it would be this: risky. Everything about the man embodies what NBA fans cringe at seeing. He makes risky plays, he makes risky emotional decisions that directly affect his teammates, and he performs risky moves on the court that lead to serious injuries. The best example of this was how he reacted after suffering his knee injury. Instead of taking a knee and having the team doctor’s look at it, throwing a fit seemed to be the appropriate reaction.
It certainly doesn’t take an expert to know that putting risky and humble playing styles together on the court might lead to a few bumps in the road.
Watching the relationship between Durant and Westbrook evolve over the years is like watching a wise older brother(Durant) try and guide his rebellious kid-brother(Westbrook) in the right direction. In an ESPN article that Skip Bayless wrote last seasons in regards to this relationship, he says ”Obviously, Westbrook wants to be The Man in OKC. Incredibly, THE Man (Durant) defends and encourages and enables Westbrook to be just that.” Westbrook is simply defiant. He wants to lead this team to victory, but Durant is so clearly the man who is talented enough to assume that role on the team.
There is no better example for this constant defiance than the Thunder’s performance in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. This match-up ended in a disappointing five-game series that gave Miami their first NBA title with the new “Big Three.” Even though Miami certainly wasn’t picked as an underdog in this series, the quick demise of the Thunder came as a surprise to many NBA fans, as they were at least expecting this series to be competitive. But instead, the Miami Heat simply bulldozed through the Thunder as if they were just a minor inconvenience standing in the way of their inevitable championship title.
During this series, Westbrook made it clear that he wanted everyone to know that this was his team, and he was going to lead this team to victory. However, that didn’t quite work out the way he wanted it to. During this five game series, Westbrook took 16 more field goal attempts than the vastly superior shooter Kevin Durant and still managed to put fewer points on the board: Wesbtrook came out being 52 for 120 as where Durant came out being 57 for 104. Clearly, if you are taking 16 more shots than your teammate and he is still outscoring you by roughly 20 points, you would think it’s time to let go of your ego and surrender the team reins to the man who deserves it. But last season still showed no signs of Durant putting Westbrook in his place and stepping up to assume his rightful position on the team.
However, this 2013-2014 NBA season brings all types of new possibilities to the table for Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder as Westbrook will be out for at least the first month of the season after undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus he suffered during the 2013 post-season. Obviously, no one is “happy” about this injury. Westbrook himself is an unbelievably talented player that brings a lot to the table for the Thunder. But the question that is on everyone’s mind is how much will Westbrook really be missed from the line-up?
Despite the risk and uninhibited emotion he brings to the team, Westbrook averages 23.2 points per game. With stats like that, it is difficult to refute that there might be some method to this kid’s madness. But I believe that the absence of Westbrook on the court will give Durant the opportunity to fill the position that he was always too hesitant to take away from Westbrook. With Westbrook out of the picture, Durant will be able to run the team the way he wants it to and have the chance to prove to himself and his teammates that he can assume the leadership role on the Thunder.
What I want to see this season out of Durant is the killer instinct that I know is there. We’ve all seen glimpses of it on the court when games go down to the wire and, out of nowhere, comes this deadly player that is virtually unstoppable. Durant has hinted at showing some ruthlessness as he and Dwayne Wade were in somewhat of a heated Twitter battle after Durant blatantly stated that he does not think Wade is qualified to be named as one of the top 10 player’s in the league.
After suffering defeat for the past two years and finally having his biggest liability out of the way, it’s time that Durant proves that he is better than number two by forcing people to recognize that he is number one and is THE man in OKC.