Can Westbrook Make Nice With Steph In Rio?

After the NBA Finals is settled and after the champagne has been mopped up and after Vegas pays off bets and after someone has a parade- if it’s Cleveland expect mass hysteria- the NBA calendar turns to free agency and Olympic preparation.

Free agency is all about KD, while the Olympic team will have a new backcourt look without Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.

There are five domestic games intended to give the U.S. Olympic team a tune-up. The U.S. plays Argentina in Vegas, China in Los Angeles, China in Oakland, Venezuela in Chicago and Nigeria in Houston. No one expects the U.S. to be threatened much; these are exhibitions. The purpose is to develop chemistry and on-court execution. The bigger drama will be off-court with the point guards, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.

The league’s best point guards are a shoo-in to make the team this summer. Westbrook will be vying for his second Olympic gold medal and for Curry, this will be his first Olympics. Curry, depending on his health which is a tightly held secret, like some sort of CIA document, may or may not need surgery in the off-season which would affect his Olympic participation. But if surgery isn’t necessary, and he can go to Rio as the starting point, and Westbrook backs him up, how are they going to get along? It’s not on Curry, he doesn’t haven’t the issue. It’s all on Russ.

After finishing a grueling series with the Warriors and coming out on the losing end, Russ did not hide his disdain.When asked by a reporter who noticed Westbrook and Curry in conversation with a ref, when questioned about the conversation and what did he and Curry talk about, Westbrook was salty. “I didn’t say nothing to him. I was talking to the ref.”

Earlier in the series, he referred to Curry as a Boy Scout. He also smirked at Curry’s defense, well actually he laughed. And then Curry outplayed him in games 6 and 7.

The fact that Curry is protected both on offense and defense isn’t much of a secret. The Warriors offense is built upon multiple screens to get Steph space. On defense, Steph rarely guards his position for the entire game. Westbrook took umbrage with that. After the Game 7 loss, Westbrook saw no reason to linger in a sportsmanship moment. He was in the locker room.

Curry creates this kind of snarky sentiment because of perception. The narrative of the perfect human that is attached to Curry is rarely offered to anyone else. While every other NBA player have their flaws dissected and it’s a lot of throwing shade by NBA writers, Curry’s critiques have a shelf life. They don’t define him. He never has to face the wrath of the media over his on-court behavior for a period of time. It’s one game here, what happened Steph? One game there, are you hurt?

If Curry plays poorly, he is injured. If Westbrook plays poorly, he chokes. It’s confirmation bias. We distort the facts to fit what we believe. Curry is perfect. Westbrook is erratic.

Russell Westbrook was drafted in 2008, a combo guard. In his early years, he was more of a shooting guard than a point and he has had an eight year tutorial at the position. It’s been a work in progress. He takes those Westbrook horrible shots in key moments that make you want to throw something.

Driven, ambitious, arrogant, athletic, explosive, type A personality, a below average three point shooter, a triple double God, Westbrook is always going to rub people the wrong way. He has one of those I don’t give a f**k personalities. It’s refreshing because a lot of NBA stars are image conscious to the point of being fake. Russ keeps it real. But the question of jealousy rises up whenever he says something snarky about Curry.

Curry has everything Westbrook doesn’t. He has a MVP. He has a title. He has unconditional NBA media love. But Westbrook is a better pure point than Curry, second in the league in assists this year. He is a better rebounder and triple doubles flow off his fingertips. Curry is a better pure scorer, no one in the league can touch him. He is an insane dribbler and clutch shot maker. Together, the two will be a formidable combo in Rio. But can Westbrook fall in line?

If anyone can get Westbrook to tone down his personal rivalry with Curry, it’s Mike Krzyzewski. The fact is the U.S. team needs Westbrook. There are three superstar NBA point guards, Westbrook, Curry and Chris Paul. CP has pulled out, leaving Curry and Westbrook to keep the medal on U.S. soil.

Westbrook’s athleticism is a tough cover for international players who don’t have the speed to guard him. He brings a different dynamic to the team that Curry simply can’t. They are different. They are equal. They are different. They are necessary. They are different. They are mesmerizing. Can Westbrook lose the attitude for two weeks?

The NBA is a league in which friendship is optional. You don’t have to like your teammate. You do have to leave all your animus and disdain at the door once you get on the court. With KD and Kevin Love, Westbrook will have enough friends on the team so he doesn’t need to buddy up with Curry. He does need to treat him like a teammate, lose the rivalry, focus on winning the gold medal, be patriotic, honor his country.

The NBA needs a personality like Westbrook. He’s creative, interesting, the opposite of cookie-cutter, his own person, emotional, aggressive and one of the league’s top players. He is nothing like the placid Curry who barely makes waves and always says the right thing. There is room for both of them to thrive. But it is Westbrook who has to make the adjustment this summer in Rio, not Curry.


photo via llananba