Why Russell Westbrook Can't Win, Even When He Wins
A month ago, Russell Westbrook was among the frontrunners for this season's NBA MVP Award.
Now, the high-flying point guard and the rest of his Oklahoma City teammates find themselves on an earlier-than-anticipated summer vacation.
Second only to the Spurs in ESPN's pre-season poll predicting the Western Conference champion, the Thunder fell well short of expectations both inside and outside of the organization.
Ironically, this was Westbrook's best season from an individual numbers standpoint. It was also a year in which he received the most criticism of his career.
Maligned in previous seasons for perceived attempts at stealing the spotlight from teammate Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook entered uncharted waters this year as the team's only option down the stretch.
Was it Westbrook's fault the Thunder didn't make the playoffs or is it to his credit they even had a chance?
A season-long look at the Thunder's struggles reveals a team decimated by injury.
In mid-October, the team announced Kevin Durant would undergo surgery for a Jones fracture in his right foot. They said he would be evaluated six weeks after the operation.
In early November, Russell Westbrook underwent surgery for a broken bone in his right hand. He missed nearly a month of action.
In December, Durant sprained his ankle. And despite a quick return from the injury, he would eventually require another surgery on his right foot in February.
In March, Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka underwent knee surgery. And while he was initially expected back in four to six weeks, he was eventually shut down for the season.
Later that month, the Thunder announced Durant would also be out the rest of the season.
To recap, two of the Thunder's three best players went down with injury and didn't return. Inexplicably, the one who did return to the team to give them any shot of making the playoffs was cast as a villain, despite his heroic efforts.
Westbrook battled through injury and instability, but it wasn't enough to save OKC's season.
At 26, Russell Westbrook has made four All-Star appearances in seven NBA seasons.
He's also helped the Thunder reach the postseason in every season except his first -- and the current campaign, of course.
This season, Westbrook averaged career-highs in points (28.1), rebounds (7.3), assists (8.6) and steals (2.1).
He also led the league in triple-doubles with 11.
The next closest player had three.
But instead of being recognized for his monster numbers and his ability to keep Oklahoma City in playoff contention until the final day of the regular season, Westbrook was often chided for taking too many shots.
Westbrook's relationship with the media hit Marshawn Lynch status this season.
Over the past few seasons, Russell Westbrook -- and Kevin Durant, for that matter -- and the media drifted further and further apart.
A few years ago in Utah, Westbrook appeared absolutely disgusted with a post-game question asking if the Jazz won or OKC threw a game away.
This season, Westbrook went full Beast Mode on the court and in his post-game comments.
On New Year's Eve, following a game the Thunder won, but one Westbrook was ejected from, he responded to every question with the same generic answer. He said the game was a “big win,” or something very similar.
That trend continued on January 16, following a win over the first place Golden State Warriors.
In his post-game interview, Westbrook answered every question with a form of the word “execute,” and then he blatantly told one reporter he didn't like him.
Westbrook has always played with a chip on his shoulder and that leaves him at an ironic disadvantage.
From his earliest days at UCLA, Russ always played with anger and aggression on the basketball court.
It's his aggressive, in-your-face style of play that makes him so successful.
The problem with this attitude and his perceived hatred of the media is Westbrook leaves himself in an all-or-nothing situation.
No one gets after the lovable loser for coming up short, but everyone is quick to crucify the arrogant player who failed to win it all -- or even make the playoffs.
If Westbrook doesn't win an MVP Award or an NBA championship, then his season is a failure.
It's his Kobe/MJ swagger and LeBron-esque skill that led him to this season's scoring title, but this combination also paints a target the size of the moon on his back.
On April 12, Westbrook went off for a career-high 54 points in an eventual 116-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
If the Thunder had won, it would've been crucial to their playoff hopes, and Westbrook would've been praised for the victory.
A loss meant several members of the media dwelled on Russ's 43 shot attempts from the field.
Kobe himself tweeted in defense of Westbrook, saying the only way to silence the critics is by winning.
What ALL TIME Great went 19 for 43 in a game 3 nba finals loss? #lookItup #onlyringsmatter #byAnyMeans — Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 14, 2015
Ppl will always find a way to critique Only way to shut up critics is to WIN That's the challenge myself and Mj accepted #CantcritiqueRings — Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 14, 2015
But that's just it, Kobe. You and MJ took shots, in both number and difficulty, most players would get slammed for, but you won rings.
Critics couldn't be seen through the confetti or heard over the roar from the parade.
Russell Westbrook's problem is he's yet to win anything. And until he does, those voices are only going to grow in number and volume.
Citations: Western Conference champs (ESPN), Kevin Durant has right foot surgery (ESPN), Russell Westbrook has hand surgery (ESPN), Kevin Durant sidelined again (ESPN), Serge Ibaka sidelined post-surgery (ESPN), Kevin Durant to have foot surgery (ESPN), Russell Westbrook (Basketball Reference), NBA Player Double Doubles Statistics - 2014-15 (ESPN)