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Rockets 2019-2020 player previews: Russell Westbrook

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Now With (no) Added Political Rancor!

2019 NBA Japan Games: Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets
Frankly, I’m a Rawlsian. That’s not compatible with many current socio-political systems.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

We can only hope this player preview of the the controversial-in-hoops Russell Westbrook does not go the way of the Austin Rivers preview. To that end, it will “stick to basketball” in the vague, ambling, way you’ve come to expect.

There are few players in the NBA who have drawn more Dreamshake ire than new Rockets starting point guard Russell Westbrook (Steph Curry? Giannis? Karl Malone? Kobe Bryant?). None of those targets of wrath have also carried the hopes of a Rockets title season on their shoulders.

Make no mistake, the difference between the Rockets being a playoff team in the absurd, brutal, Western Conference and the Rockets contending for a title, comes down to Westbrook (and health, but that’s a standing caveat for every single team, even some that formerly seemed impervious to such concerns).

It would seem that nearly every single angle of “Westbrook The Rocket” has been covered, analyzed, mocked and lauded all over NBA-focused media, and then re-analyzed and re-considered. What is there to add?

How about a story? A story familiar, literally, to the millions of people in Houston who moved away from where they were previously living, to find their fortune, or at least a better one, along the concrete bayous?

Once upon a time, Russell Westbrook, LA kid, who even went to UCLA, landed in Oklahoma City. It was, and is, a place much different from his home. In time, though, he came to personify his franchise, in its new form as Oklahoma’s first and only major professional sports team. The Thunder were born in controversy, but Westbrook brought fans to the small city, not only in OKC, but around the world, with his daring, aggressive, attacking style.

The Thunder were on a run of draft picks never before (and probably never again to be) seen, with three NBA MVPs, in James Harden, and Kevin Durant and Westbrook, himself. They flourished. They played ferocious, precocious basketball. Westbrook was the heart of those teams. It all worked. Until it didn’t. Harden was traded. Durant left.

What was Westbrook to do? Whatever it was, he certainly tried to do it. Many criticisms might be fairly leveled at number zero. Indifference to basketball isn’t one of them.

After another early playoff exit, the Thunder seem to have decided to close the book on the original Thunder era. Russell Westbrook soon found his way to his friend James Harden’s Houston Rockets.

Now comes the fortune-telling part.

Russell Westbrook came to Houston like many, seeking a second chance. Houston, as it usually does, said “It’s there, if you’ll take it.” No fool, Westbrook realized the clock was ticking, and some changes might be in order. New place, new start.

As everyone knows, though, it is difficult to change old habits. It takes time, and effort. At first, it didn’t look so good. Russell seemed to be trying, but he’d fall back into old habits when the going got tough. His team and the city stayed patient. They hid their worry. After all, he looked to be a Rocket for years to come.

Gradually, about 20 games into the season, it all seemed to come together for Westbrook. His destiny was still to be the heart, the fury, of his team, but in support of the greatest offensive player of all time (as future generations know him) James Harden. He had all the abilities necessary to be the best supporting player in the NBA, and he decided to become that.

Westbrook did the little things. He played at least one quarter of lockdown defense a game. He ran the break. He moved without the ball. He attacked, and attacked some more, when the Rockets offense was bogging down or the shots weren’t falling. Assists came off those drives, and points. He remained the best rebounding guard in the NBA, with no asterisk.

Opponents were terrified. The one two punch of Harden and Westbrook and a crowd of shooters was unstoppable. There was always an MVP on the court for the Rockets, doing something positive.

Popular opinion had anointed Los Angeles, birthplace of the two Rockets stars, as champions before the season began. Houston has never cared much about popular opinion, and neither did the Rockets.

When all was said and done, the two friends achieved their goal, far from where their careers began, but side by side. The confetti fell from the ceiling. The Westbrook lovers felt vindicated; the haters relieved, and somewhat baffled. Legacies were reconsidered.

In a flash the talking heads all loved the Rockets, respected James Harden, never had a doubt about Russell Westbrook. It seemed magical, but wasn’t. The only magic was the power of friendship.

Poll

What’s your ending?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Happily ever after.
    (101 votes)
  • 10%
    Ruined by a runaway forklift or royal decree.
    (20 votes)
  • 24%
    Close. So close.
    (49 votes)
  • 13%
    There was no St. Luka anywhere in this.
    (27 votes)
197 votes total Vote Now