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Around The League

Shootaround (Oct. 2): Westbrook keeps promise to Oklahoma City

NBA.com staff reports

Oct 2, 2017 8:31 AM ET

 

Russell Westbrook said Thunder fans were 'like my family.'

This morning's headlines:

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A man of his word, Westbrook did what he said he would-- More than just the reigning KIA MVP, Russell Westbrook has morphed into the face of Oklahoma City sports the past year. And his most recent act that will endear him to locals for the foreseeable future, the signing of his five-year, $205 million contract extension, is about more than just money (and lost of it). As Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman put its, this is about a man of his word keeping that word:

Russell Westbrook took the stage Sunday dressed in his signature attire.

No, not the ponchos or the rolled-up overalls or the flowery jackets or any of his unorthodox wardrobe that has put Westbrook courtside for Paris fashion shows of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.

Westbrook instead wore the clothes that made him famous. Basketball shorts, rolled up, the way a construction worker rolls up his sleeves.

He kept telling us, Oklahoma is where he wanted to be. That he was focusing on family and new fatherhood this summer, and that contract time would come. But we're not quite as naive as we once were. Fool us once ...

“I wasn't worried,” Westbrook said Sunday in his first public comments since signing the extension. “See, that's what I keep trying to tell you, I wasn't really worried about it because I know I wanted to be” here. 

He told us that in April, after last season. He told us that last Monday, as this season kicked off. Then Westbrook backed it up. Now he wants to know what the big deal was. Even refused to grant that the extension will be a load off his mind.

“My focus never shifted,” Westbrook said. “I mean, obviously, I didn't talk to you guys, so you guys were kind of making up your own assumptions, but my focus never changed. For me, you know, taking my time, family is the most important thing to me, and that's what I was focused on. When it's time to focus on basketball I do that, and that's it.”

Westbrook would have looked rather squishy had he not stayed in OKC. Westbrook repeatedly said Oklahoma City was where he wanted to be and Westbrook clearly was disgusted with Durant's decision. To follow the Durant Trail would have been a bad look.

But that, in retrospect, was impossible, because Westbrook says what he means and means what he says. Here's what's underrated about Westbrook. We marvel at his athletic ability and his work ethic and his fire and drive, but we sometimes forget how mentally tough the guy is. It's impossible to be Russell Westbrook, this Russell Westbrook, this never-give-an-inch and never-give-in and never-go-off-character, without being mentally tough.

Impossible to always say exactly what you mean without being totally dialed in, and when's the last time Westbrook said something that wasn't exactly what he wanted to say? Westbrook told us he wanted to be here and expected everyone to believe him. It's the ultimate expression of his Why Not? philosophy. Why wouldn't we believe him?

“I like where I'm at ... I enjoy where I play basketball, and obviously with the extension, it shows that,” Westbrook said matter of factly.

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Green and Wallace are spirit Bad Boys -- If Draymond Green reminds you of someone, reminds you of an undersized defensive menace from a championship team of a previous era, it's by design. Green, the two-time champion and the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, modeled his game after Ben Wallace, the defensive anchor for a championship Pistons team he grew up admiring. They've crafted a bond, these two. And as Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group makes clear, it's by design:

All week long, Draymond Green learned he would experience a surprise. He had no idea what it would entail, though.

Warriors’ spokesman Raymond Ridder gave Green the heads up, but he declined to share specifics. Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald alerted Green as he warmed up, but he only indicated the surprise would take place at halfcourt. Green tried to come up with the answer himself, but he remained stumped.

Then before he knew it, Green saw his childhood hero stand at center court. Former NBA forward Ben Wallace proudly held Green’s Defensive Player of the Year award and presented it to him before the Warriors’ 108-102 preseason-opening loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday at the Oracle.

“For him to hand that trophy,” Green said, “it meant a lot to me.”

It became a “special moment” to Green for so many reasons. Green idolized Wallace after growing up nearly 72 miles north of the Palace of Auburn Hills. They met when Green attended a Pistons practice with Joe Dumars’ son. Wallace soon mentored Green as he progressed from Saginaw High, to Michigan State and to the Warriors as a second-round pick. They shared similar games as two undersized forwards that made up for their height disadvantage with versatility and emotion.

So, when Green saw Wallace, he smiled as if he received the best Christmas present of his life.

“That was special. The look on Draymond’s face when he saw Big Ben out there….” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said trailing off as he smiled. “That was his guy. It was cool.”

Before it could get too sentimental, though, Wallace offered Green a pointed message.

“I let him know I pulled one of my Defensive Player of the Year trophies off the wall and brought it to him tonight.” Wallace said, laughing. “He needs to catch up.”

Green said those kind of conversations happen “all the time,” partly because of their similar career paths.

After going undrafted in 1996, Wallace made four NBA All-Star appearances and collected four Defensive Player of the Year awards as he used his 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame to bully opponents smaller than him with strength and opponents bigger than him with hustle. After the Warriors drafted him 35th overall in 2012, Green has tried to do the same thing with his 6-foot-7, 230-pound frame. Green still trails with All-Star appearances (two) and defensive player of the year awards (one). Wallace has continuously reminded Green of that discrepancy.

“That’ll never go away,” Green said. So he has pulled a trump card.

“He won one championship. I won two now,” Green said. “I got that edge.”

Not according to Wallace, who won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons when they upset the Lakers in five games in the 2004 NBA Finals. Count Wallace as yet another former NBA player who proclaims his respective team’s supremacy over the current Golden State Warriors.

“They’re a great offensive team and are capable of running scores up in a hurry,” Wallace said of the Warriors. “But I just try to remind him that we probably were the best defensive team ever to play the game.”

It might sound like a tired storyline for most of these Warriors. Apparently not though for Green and Wallace, who said “that’s a conversation that will never get old between the two of us.” When Wallace and former Pistons teammate Rasheed Wallace visited the Warriors’ practice facility last year, they drew the “Bad Boy” symbol on one of the team’s dry-erase boards.

“To have those conversations,” Green said, “and be able to say we all belong to a very special class, and fraternity of champions is special.”

***

Wade getting a good look at running Cavaliers' second unit -- Dwyane Wade has never come off the bench during his NBA career, at least not as a part of his regular job requirement. Wade's always been a star, a face of the franchise. So it's with great care that he takes his next steps during training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he's being deployed as the leader of the team's second. Chris Fedor of the Plain Dealer has more:

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue isn't offering much when it comes to his plans for Dwyane Wade.

When asked whether Wade would start -- something he has done in all but 11 games of his exceptional 14-year career -- Lue only said that there was a plan in place. Moments later, when asked about a timeline for naming a starter, Lue facetiously asked when reporters would like an answer before walking away from the media session with a smile.

As training camp continues and the Cavs learn more about their newest addition, Wade's on-court role remains one of the biggest questions -- even if it's something he doesn't seem to care about.

"Me and Ty just talked about role," Wade said Friday. "We didn't talk about starting or nothing like that. We just talked about what my role can be and pretty much what I've always done. I'm not focusing on starting at the 2. I'm not focusing on anything. I'm just focused on coming in here, learning the offense, continuing to be one of the guys and figure that Ty, he will figure everything out. It's everybody's job that has on a Cleveland jersey to be ready and prepare for whatever he decides."

Early on, it appears Lue is contemplating Wade as the second unit anchor. In Wade's first practice Wednesday night, he was playing backup point guard alongside Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson. On Friday morning -- after missing Thursday's practices because of personal business -- Wade was back in that same role, running the second team.

"Just his poise, getting guys shots," Lue said when asked what stands out about Wade. "Never gets sped up no matter how crazy the game may be, pressing or whatever they're doing, he's always under control and seems to make the right play every time."

Those certainly seem to be qualities any coach is looking for with a backup point guard. And the Cavs have an opening there.

The original idea was to have free agent addition Derrick Rose in that spot. Then came the Kyrie Irving trade and with Isaiah Thomas sidelined until the end of this calendar year, Rose has moved into the starting group.

The Cavs also signed Jose Calderon, but at 36, after bouncing around the NBA the last few years, it's fair to wonder if Calderon would be ready for that workload -- or if he will stay on the roster long enough, as the Cavs still have one more roster move to make. 

Wade would be a nice Plan B. Still, it's always tricky to start reading too much into early training camp storylines.

This is the time of year when Tristan Thompson added a midrange jumper to his offensive arsenal. It's when Jordan McRae was talked of having "Jamal Crawford traits." When Iman Shumpert had worked on his handle all summer to fill an open backup point guard spot. Then the regular season tipped off and it was all a mirage. 

***

Dream comes true for Clippers' Teodosic -- Sometimes it's about the opportunity and not necessarily the journey. For Milos Teodosic of the Los Angeles Clippers, it's about the dream of playing point guard in the NBA. It's about that dream being real after a decade-long wait, writes Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times:

The goal for so long had been for Milos Teodosic to take his immense talents to the NBA after years of being called the best player in Europe not to play in the association.

Ten years of Teodosic throwing beautiful and amazing passes overseas went by before he decided to bring those skills to the Clippers.

But now that he is here in the league playing for L.A., there will be pressure on Teodosic to perform at the same high level he exhibited playing for Olympiakos and CSKA Moscow.

“I don’t know if there is added pressure for him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

“He came over here for a reason to prove that he can play and be great over here. We’re really looking forward to him this season. We’re hoping he’s right.”

Teodosic finished with eight assists in the Clippers’ 121-113 exhibition loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night at Stan Sheriff Center. He scored just one point on a free throw, missing all five of his attempts.

Even though it was an exhibition game, Teodosic has realized his dream of playing in the NBA.

He had signed a two-year, $12.3-million deal with the Clippers over the summer.

“I decided long time ago that I wanted to play in the NBA, but I didn’t have that much chances because I was always under contract and I was not free agent,” Teodosic said. “This summer I was free and the first big opportunity was here with the Clippers.”

Teodosic’s first assist was a lob pass to Danilo Gallinari in the first quarter for a basket. Teodosic then threw a nice, simple bounce pass inside for a DeAndre Jordan dunk.

Next, Teodosic threw an underhanded scoop pass to Blake Griffin (18 points) inside for a basket.

The pass that really excited the fans was when Teodosic threw a look-ahead lob to a running Jordan for a dunk in the second quarter that had their teammates leaping off the bench and shaking their heads in acknowledgment of his vision.

“Everybody that can score catches up to a passer,” Rivers said. “There’s no coincidence that when Milos is on the floor, DJ turns into Usain Bolt and was running down the floor full speed, because he wants to give you the ball.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Training camp is a time for tinkering and no one is doing more than Heat coach Erik Spoelstra ... Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are ready to share a leadership role in Memphis ... Tim Hardaway wants to make it about his game and not his contract ... Shorter preseason won't accelerate the process for Clifford's Hornets ... Furkan Korkmaz is making Sixers coach Brett Brown take a hard look at his plans for this season ... Young Kings ready to run this season? ... Pacers' Robinson III glad his ankle injury "wasn't worse"


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