Russell Westbrook doesn't need a sidekick, and he's making sure everybody knows it
Kevin Durant's exodus from Oklahoma City meant a lot of things to a lot of people.
For starters, the growing number of fans who fed into an improbable love affair between a transitioning basketball franchise -- new name, new logo, new players, new attitude, the whole thing -- and a midwest state capital that doesn't even rank in the Top 25 in population among all major cities were absolutely crushed.
The people of Seattle were burned when the SuperSonics left them and bolted for blue and orange uniforms midway across the country in 2008-09, but the people who adopted this misplaced bunch and witnessed them transform into one of the greatest shows in league history for a seven-year stretch felt a worse pain when their savior slammed the door and didn't look back this past summer.
The Durant-Westbrook era ended like a Shakespearean tragedy. There was a noble protagonist, flaws and all, there was a heightened situation and then a fatal conclusion. The Thunder recorded 50-plus wins in five of six years with a full season; they went 47-19 in the lockout-shortened campaign. They fell in the Western Conference finals three times, and flopped in the NBA Finals once, but they never reached the top, and it's one of the biggest what-ifs we'll see for a long time.
Durant's surprising move affected the league as a whole too. It also affected LeBron James, who is now challenged with his biggest hurdle yet: Finding a way to orchestrate a repeat run with full knowledge he and his crew will run into a Super Team comprised of four of the best 20 players in the league before another potential parade spills into the streets of downtown Cleveland.
This affected Nike. This affected merchandise sales across the board. The list goes on and on. But what have we learned through the first week of the new NBA season?
Durant's highly magnified switch to the Golden State Warriors affected Russell Westbrook the most -- and it's creating must-see TV. You thought Stephen Curry's numbers were a little incomprehensible last year? Look what Westbrook is doing this year.
In the first three games, Westbrook has totaled 116 points, 37 rebounds and 35 assists. He is the first player to hit 100 points, 30 rebounds and 30 assists in three games to start a season, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
Based on his last outing in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Westbrook scored 33 points as part of another triple-double, but he focused more on his role as a facilitator on Sunday. He had 16 assists to go with 12 rebounds, helping his club stay undefeated.
According to the Thunder, Westbrook joined Magic Johnson, Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history with two triple-doubles in the first three games of a season. He now averages 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists.
If you look closely, Westbrook's best season in terms of scoring average came when Durant was injured for all but 27 games in '14-15. So is it feasible for him to continue averaging 30-plus and eventually become the first player to average more than 32 points since Kobe Bryant (35.4) in 2005-06? Yes.
The scariest part of this Revenge Tour is, he's even expanding his game. Westbrook matched a career high with five made 3-pointers Sunday. He was 5 for 6 after making going 2 for 10 from beyond the arc against Phoenix.
Are the Thunder better without Durant? Let's not go overboard here. But they're doing the right thing in trying to extend Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams to not only maintain a solid foundation for the future, but, more importantly, show Westbrook this is the best place for him.
The electric, do-it-all point guard is about to string together a full season unlike any we've ever seen, and it might even be enough for Oklahoma City to forget about KD. The best way to get over a breakup? Distraction.
So far, so good.
By: Brian Fitzsimmons