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Russell Westbrook says Thunder don’t need to fill James Harden’s slot

Sep 28, 2013, 8:00 PM EDT

Russell Westbrook, James Harden AP

At the time the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets, the thinking in OKC was that if they were never going to come to terms on a contract extension, then the team might as well get something in return for its most dynamic scorer off the bench.

History, however, will not be kind to that deal from the Thunder’s side.

Kevin Martin was the player who was supposed to immediately fill the void left by Harden’s exit, but he was hit and miss at best over the course of the season, and was never capable of taking over a game for stretches the way Harden could at times.

Martin is gone now, signed by the Timberwolves in free agency. All that’s left in terms of assets (besides a trade exception) is Jeremy Lamb, who has potential but will need to make a considerable leap this season to help the team in a meaningful capacity.

Whether or not the Thunder can contend for a title hinges on whether you believe that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are strong enough to carry the rest of the team to the Finals. Most observers believe that Harden’s production needs to be replaced for that to happen, but Westbrook himself doesn’t see it that way.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

Which is why so many of us pests on the outside are openly wondering if the Thunder, with suddenly little to show in return for Harden unless they use the trade exception they created via Martin’s sign-and-trade to Minnesota, have enough to regain the 60-win form we witnessed before Westbrook went down.

It’s no lock even if you presume, as we do here, that Westbrook will make a fairly full recovery from the knee tear he suffered when Houston’s Patrick Beverley lunged at him in Game 2 of OKC’s first-round series with Harden’s Rockets.

Said Westbrook: “The main problem is, I personally think, since James has left I think everybody thinks we need somebody to fill that slot. The slot doesn’t have to be filled. We have a great team. If everybody does their job, we should be all right.”

Thunder GM Sam Presti is obviously in agreement with Westbrook, considering he’s expecting the team to improve upon last season’s 60-win campaign.

But simply put, we wonder if Oklahoma City will have enough overall firepower to make that a reality. Someone on that roster is going to need to provide a scoring punch in a reserve role, or multiple players will need to consistently contribute in order to make things tough on opposing defenses — especially during the postseason.

It’s tough to buy what Westbrook is selling. But who knows, if he’s healthy and motivated and Durant has an MVP-caliber season in store, that could be enough to ultimately prove the doubters wrong.

  1. adamsjohn714 - Sep 28, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    haha, ok Russell. Keep telling yourself that. There aren’t that many Hardens in the NBA. Losing one is dumb, thinking it doesn’t matter is ridiculous.

    • grapenutz08 - Sep 28, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      won 60 games without Harden. Goodbye

      • bkallday52 - Sep 29, 2013 at 6:26 PM

        and lost in what round?

    • zoomy123 - Sep 28, 2013 at 8:49 PM

      The problem isn’t even losing James Harden; Harden’s production can be replaced by a solid bench. The problem is that the Thunder have NO bench. Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Thabeet, Nick Collison and Jeremy Lamb is NOT a championship-caliber bench. You can’t win a championship without role players, especially role players coming off the bench. This is what the Pacers learned the hard way last season: even if your starters are championship caliber, if you have D.J. Augstine, Tyler Hansborough, and Sam Young coming off the bench, you’re going to get 100% killed.

      • adamsjohn714 - Sep 28, 2013 at 8:57 PM

        My contention is that Harden’s production can’t be replaced by a solid bench because a solid bench of 3+ players inherently requires that those 3+ guys’ minutes make up a big chunk. Harden did it in 30+ mpg. A solid bench gets more than that, cutting into starters’ minutes (which usually are more productive outside of goofballs named Perkins).

      • zoomy123 - Sep 29, 2013 at 11:29 AM

        @adamsjohn714

        I have absolutely no idea what you’re even saying. “[A] solid bench of 3+ players inherently requires that those 3+ guys’ minutes makes up a big chunk.” This sentence is unintelligible. The 3+ guys’ minutes makes up a big chunk of what? Minutes? Production? What are you saying?

        Then you said, “Harden did it in 30+ mpg. A solid bench gets more than that.”

        So? What’s your point? As OKC found out in the 2012 NBA Finals 1 guy =/= a bench. In the 2012 NBA Finals nobody on OKC averaging more than 7 ppg outside of Westbrook, Durant, and Harden. All Miami had to do was stop Harden (or at least slow him down) and OKC turned into a 2 man team. This is the main reason why a solid bench can replace Harden’s production: a bench gives you multiple options at multiple positions. No one player can be more valuable than a bench, unless they’re an All-Star.

      • spursareold - Sep 29, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        @zoomy123

        What he is saying is that one guy (Harden) could put up great numbers in 30 minutes and they could still get decent productivity out of the other 4 guys on the floor. When it takes 3 guys 60 minutes to produce the same output, you only have 2 other guys in less minutes to produce complementary output that 4 guys used to.

    • money2long - Sep 28, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      everybody just has to do their job to the best of their ability and they will be fine. when you have much help on your team, you tend not to need to do much to pull out wins. think of a big three scenario. does bosh have to be bosh of toronto for the heat to win a title? no. but if wade and lebron sit out a game, he may have to be that player. the heat don’t have to necessarily ask ray allen to fill wade’s shoes. the thunder have two top players at their position. if westbrook and durant play to their full capabilities, the thunder will and are still a force to reckon with. plus ibaka is a defensive stalwart. the one thing that took a hit was chemistry. they just have to regain a flow with the pieces they have now.

    • adamsjohn714 - Sep 29, 2013 at 7:52 PM

      imagine what they could have done with him, grapenutz

  2. cmehustle - Sep 28, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    All he’s saying is they’ll be OK. If they see some improvement from the young guys like Lamb, Jones III, and Jackson along with the center they picked in the draft They will be a force to be reckoned with in years to come. They were going to lose Harden anyway last season, probably to Houston still and maybe even to my Nets, (which I would have loved over Iso Joe) so at minimum they got a couple of young guys which is all they could ask for. Thats the problem with being so good at drafting, the Warriors and Timberwolves may soon be facing the same issues in a year or two.

    • zoomy123 - Sep 29, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      In years to come?! OKC is supposed to be contenders NOW. They have 2 of the NBA’s best 5 players and they have to wait a couple of years for Jackson, Lamb, and Jones III? I don’t think so.

      • 00maltliquor - Sep 29, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        They have 2 of the games best 5 players huh? Then shouldn’t they be just fine then? What other team can boast that? Not even the allmighty Heat can say that.

      • adamsjohn714 - Sep 29, 2013 at 7:53 PM

        They don’t have 2 of the best 5 players. Westbrook isn’t close to top 5.

      • zoomy123 - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:35 AM

        @adamsjohn714

        For the sake of argument, let’s say Westbrook isn’t a top 5 player. Who’s better? LBJ, KD, CP3, Carmelo Anthony, D-Rose, Tony Parker, James Harden and Kobe Bryant. Who else is there? In what universe is 9 not close to 5? And it’s VERY debatable that Harden, Rose, Bryant and Parker are better than Westbrook. Check the stats: last year Russell Westbrook was statistically comparable to D-Rose in his MVP season. So, it’s just not true to claim, “Westbrook isn’t close to top 5.”

  3. raiderthunderjayhawk - Sep 28, 2013 at 9:28 PM

    As a sports fan, no reason to constantly kick a dead horse. It’s been one season so far and Westbrook is basically saying, get over it!

  4. antistratfordian - Sep 28, 2013 at 9:52 PM

    O RLY?

  5. muhangis - Sep 29, 2013 at 1:47 AM

    What do you expect Westbrook or Sam Presti to say? Westbrook: “No, we can’t win w/o him.” Presti: “I thought we had too much talent on this team before, leave it up to me to ruin that.”

    A player gets blinded by his confidence, and a GM will never tell you he screwed a good thing up. … [ex., the horrible Green for Perkins trade, drafting poorly the last four yrs, no effort at all to re-sign Harden, and treating Nate Robinson like a scrub and letting him go despite his cheap salary.]

    I’m convinced OKC would have won the title last year, w/o these terribly minded moves.

    • sellahh - Sep 29, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      No effort to resign Harden? They offered him essentialy the same deal that Westbook got, not a max but close to it – RB sacrificed for the team. The word is they gave him only 1 hour to decide which might be dumb, but other than that, don’t try to say they made no effort. Harden just wanted to be the man, the alpha dog and he got that in Houston (funny… u heard a guy named Howard? oh, and I’m so sure Harden and Howard are going to be so much better than Bryant and Howard depite those 2 SGs’ advanced stats being almost exactly the same).
      And no, they wouldn’t have won the title. OKC is perimeter-oriented team. So is Miami. Miami has LeBron. OKC would have a huge advantage against Indy or Chicago, Knicks. They don’t against Miami. So stop.

      • spursareold - Sep 29, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        Not true. Harden eventually GOT Westbrook money from Houston, but OKC never offered it to him. They offered less. That’s why he’s not there any more.

        It’s a shame because even of one of the young pieces they got in trade, Lamb, PJ III, Or Steven Adams blows up, OKC will just trade them to avoid the tax.

  6. coryfor3 - Sep 29, 2013 at 2:06 AM

    Westbrook doesn’t want to add anyone that will take shots away.

  7. sfm073 - Sep 29, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Should have never signed ibalka to that extension. Harden was the second best player on that team.

    • spursareold - Sep 29, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      Actually, they could have signed Ibaka, re-signed Harden, and either jettisoned Perk or traded Westbrick.

  8. lhollis74 - Sep 30, 2013 at 12:08 AM

    Don’t read too much into it either way, no one is going to agree or state that they need something that is not readily available or possible to attain whether they want it or not. I personally believe they need a player similar to harden coming off the bench, but where are they going to find that!? So what’s the point in acknowledging your feeling of diminished confidence to the entire league?

  9. bhunter1995 - Sep 30, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    They should have amnestied Perkins and given Harden the amount of money he had asked for. Perkins doesn’t produce anymore, he isn’t even that good on defense which is what he was signed for in the first place. Their team works better with Collison in the game anyways, they have no need for Perkins. If they had done that, they would have been far more successful. Brooks wouldn’t be able to give Perkins all those minutes (for some reason, Scott Brooks gives Perkins 25-26 min a night when he sucks), Collison would be able to get those minutes and the team would function better for that reason, and they would have Harden. That would have been the smart move.

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