Paul George got a chance and he went for it.
He wanted out, so the All-Star went to Thunder general manager Sam Presti and asked to be traded.
George is gone, but it appears the Thunder are the ones getting ready to be free.
Russell Westbrook has held the Oklahoma City organization hostage far too long and the organization has allowed it to happen. It took George’s departure to unlock the cell door.
Once Oklahoma City changed from Thunder basketball to “In Russ We Trust,” after the departure of Kevin Durant, Westbrook mesmerized us. Three-consecutive triple-double seasons will do that. But really, while putting us in a trance, thanks to wild 50-point games, crazy shots and the stockpiling of stats, Westbrook kidnapped the organization, held it under lock and key while everyone around him, the team and the fans, told him he was just fine.
Westbrook has been our own, private Stockholm Snydrome. Google it, if you want, but know it means the captor held us against our will and we sympathized with him for doing it.
Westbrook was always angry, brooding and upset. It was excused, thanks to the numbers he put up. Westbrook was a menace to the media – not just this past year when “Next Question,” became his Pavlovian response to any and all questions he deemed an annoyance, but for most every year he’s played. Yet, for the most part, that behavior was accepted by fans and the organization, too, witnessed by Presti and ownership never uttering a single word that maybe Westbrook’s behavior was wrong.
Westbrook didn’t win a playoff series, not after Durant left, and that, too, was even excused away, thanks to KD’s departure or the absence of any tangible help. He tortured fans with a style of play that worked so very well against the Orlandos and the Detroits of the world on Tuesday nights in January and February, yet that same behavior didn’t translate to real victories – the ones that mattered most – in the playoffs.
Westbrook couldn’t get out of his own head, tormented by his own demons, real or imagined grudges with reporters, fans and even the mighty Ricky Rubio as well as Damian Lillard. That behavior, from fistfuls of technical fouls, to being outplayed by both Rubio and Lillard in the past two years in the playoffs, was also wished away by a muzzled Billy Donovan, who never said a word about Westbrook’s boorish, selfish playoff behavior. That’s what happens when you’re only a boss (coach) in name only.
Westbrook had complete control over the organization. A blank slate to, say and do what he wanted, made famous by Westbrook wearing that, “Now he does what he wants,” mantra through his social media posts. He feuded with Durant, taking passive aggressive shots off the court to overly aggressive shots on the court. He argued with Joel Embid, Lillard, the Nuggets and others.
Yet, the captor was given a wide berth once Durant left. Yes, KD left in a huff, but Westbrook waited and waited, made no immediate decision and then maximized his earnings by signing a pair of contracts, including one that could get him more money in OKC than anywhere else.
His captives applauded him. They called it loyalty, The rest of us called it business. But when you’re in charge, seen as the “Good guy,” opposite the “Bad guy (KD),” excuses come cheap. The Thunder had to have him to stay relevant. And the fans didn’t just endure him, they enabled it, continually excusing away mistakes, losses and the inability for Westbrook to make his teammates better. Lots of points and triple-doubles will do that. A few morsels for the starving, make the starving very grateful.
That’s what you do when you sympathize with your captor. It becomes a condition where you know the truth, but ignore it. The Thunder were never winning a championship with Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Durant knew it. He left. The Thunder were never winning a championship with Westbrook and George. George knew it. He left, too.
Only recently has anyone made a peep and resisted. This season’s end, coupled with a sharp decrease in Westbrook’s game as well as a continued decrease in his on-court I.Q., seemed to resonate differently. Maybe it was injuries. Maybe it was another first-round loss, but finally the captured have made a move to break free.
The Thunder are no longer, “In Russ We Trust.” George left and it showed, maybe others were right all along, that playing with Westbrook isn’t exactly the pleasure cruise the organization promised it was when KD was here, or when Victor Oladipo was here. Superstars don’t seem to catch on. George’s departure validates that.
But more importantly, George’s departure is the eye-opener. It frees Presti to see it’s Westbrook who has had too much control for too long. That’s why you’re hearing of a Presti conversation with Toronto to deal Russ. That’s why you’re seeing a Woj story on ESPN about Miami showing interest in Westbrook. The captor has been exposed.
There’s now a chance for an escape and Presti has learned a lesson. Handing over the keys to a player only gets you locked up.
Andrew Gilman is part of The Franchise Morning Show, every day from 5:30 a.m.-9. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK