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The Extra Pass: The biggest deadline acquisition? Russell Westbrook.

Feb 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder – Game Two Getty Images

In just a few short hours, the NBA trade deadline will pass. If history is any indicator, we’ll see somewhere in the range of eight trades go through.

Some will be big, and some will be small…and none will have as big of an impact on the title picture as the return of Russell Westbrook will.

Whether Westbrook returns from knee surgery and plays in the marquee matchup against the Miami Heat remains to be seen, but let this sink in: the team with the best record in the league will welcome back one of the best players in the league. Every other addition has no chance to be anything but overshadowed. We know the level Westbrook is capable of playing at.

It’s just been a while since we’ve seen it. Westbrook rattled off a triple-double in his last game on Christmas day before going under the knife again, and plenty has changed since.

Kevin Durant, improbably, got even more effective and more efficient. Jeremy Lamb stepped up as a viable option on the wing. Reggie Jackson showed he’s more than capable of stepping in when needed. Scott Brooks even took out Kendrick Perkins at the right time. No, really.

If the Thunder looked better, it’s because, well, they got better. That makes sense, as the improvements just didn’t stop while Westbrook was away. Bigger roles and responsibilities were thrust upon the whole team, and the response was certainly encouraging.

But it was also a bit misleading. Not in the sense that Oklahoma City’s success was a fluke, or that Durant couldn’t sustain this type of performance, but rather in the sense that Westbrook should be viewed as anything but completely essential to the Thunder’s title hopes.

There’s a tendency to think that sort of thing when a team succeeds without a player. Call it the Ewing Theory or whatever you will, but it’s common place in the NBA.

You can hear the murmurs already. Every pull-up jumper that clanks off the rim with 18 seconds left on the shot clock will feel like lost money more than ever before. Every 4-for-16 game will be met with more disapproval than ever before. Every face Durant makes after a Westbrook shot will be over-analyzed. You’re crazy if you don’t think most people want to see Westbrook fail.

If it were any other player, you might be worried about the pressure or the scrutiny bleeding over to on-court performance. It could certainly cause someone to be less assertive, and to maybe deviate from the way they once played. We’ve seen that happen.

The chances that happens with Westbrook, though? Slim to none. More than ever before, he’ll need that confidence and aggressiveness he’s displayed throughout his career, primarily because he’s coming off multiple surgeries. There is very little room for doubt in the mind of a professional athlete, and Westbrook has never exhibited anything but the utmost confidence in his abilities. He’s equipped perfectly to handle these current circumstances.

Ultimately, that’s good for Oklahoma City. It may cost them a few wins in the short-term as Westbrook shakes off the rust and everyone readjusts, but make no mistake: the Thunder are undoubtedly a much better team with Westbrook back in the lineup.

It’s just something to keep in mind during deadline day. The bar is about rise, and fellow title competitors may want to act accordingly.

  1. justaride88 - Feb 20, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    How about… team with the best record will welcome back one of the more overrated players in the game?

    I mean, Im giving Russ a credit for hes dues – hes a phenomenal talent, but is he one of the games best players? I dont think so, he has the potential but hes not there yet. Every game hes playing is a great display of incredible athleticism and driwe, but its also a display of how many holes hes game has. He just cant run a offense, he CANT! He can dribble it around, and around until clock runs out and than jack of a terrible shot wich hits 40% of the time. Or turns it ower, etc…

    Thunder will have little or no improvment with this “acquisition”

    • bougin89 - Feb 20, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      Yeah, a guy that averaged 23.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 7.4 apg, 1.8 spg with really, really solid defense last year definitely won’t help. He’s one of the best combo guards in the game.

      Sure, he’s not the most efficient player and does take some bad shots, but with some players you can take the bad with the good. Russell is one of those players.

  2. 1forest1 - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    Would like to see them win it all this year. They sure do deserve it from Westbrook going down in last years playoffs to Durant going on a tear. I hope he comes back fine

  3. d10ballfan - Feb 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    Dude is not overrated.

    It’s one thing to get btr during the regular season. But when they get in 7 game playoff series they need two legit guys who can create their own. You need two scorers to have a chance.

    Yes Westbrook has some flaws and he’s not elite like Durant.

    The role players stepping up now will only help their confidence when this guy gets back in the groove.

  4. antistratfordian - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    I don’t know. I think the Thunder are more dangerous with KD getting more touches and more shots and playing more minutes. But now that Westbrook is back they’re going to cut Durant’s minutes some, and his shot totals are going to dip to make way for this chucker… so, we’ll see.

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