Shootaround (Dec. 15): Russell Westbrook no fan of triple-double spotlight
Westbrook tired of triple-double talk| Players upbeat over new CBA | ‘Rest’ not relaxing to fans | ‘Two bigs’ too little for Sixers
No. 1: Westbrook wearies of triple-double glare — Here’s one more reason to think no NBA player will ever match Oscar Robertson’s remarkable 1961-62 achievement of averaging a triple-double for an entire season: Fifty-five years ago, The Big O wasn’t asked about it constantly (because it wasn’t “a thing” then) and there was only a fraction of media outlets paying attention compared to the glut covering the NBA now. Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City guard and first player in decades to revive even speculation about doing what Robertson did, sounds as if he’s already worn down from the attention, as Sam Amick of USA Today reported Wednesday night:
After tallying seven consecutive triple-doubles recently, a streak that ended on Sunday and came within two of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time record of nine straight, the Oklahoma City Thunder star finished with 27 points, six rebounds and five assists in a 109-89 loss to the Utah Jazz. … It was the second consecutive game in which he didn’t tally a triple-double, after he had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in a 114-95 loss at Portland on Tuesday.
“Honestly, man, people and this triple-double thing is kind of getting on my nerves,” said Westbrook, who missed 18 of 25 shots and had five turnovers against the Jazz and has 12 triple-doubles for the season. “People think if I don’t get it, it’s like a big thing. When I do get it, it’s a thing. If y’all just let me play … if I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. It is what it is. I really don’t care. For the 100th time, I don’t care.
“All I care about is winning, man, honestly. All the numbers, (expletive) don’t mean nothing to me.”
For the Thunder’s purposes in the [post-Kevin Durant] era, there has been a strong correlation between Westbrook’s triple-doubles and Thunder success. They’re 9-3 overall in triple-double games, and just 6-8 in non-triple-double games. Before the two-game slide, coincidentally, Westbrook was far more willing to discuss the historical context of what he has achieved.
“Whenever you get the opportunity to be mentioned with those guys — (Oscar Robertson), Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson — those guys, it’s a blessing,” Westbrook said. “It’s something I never take for granted. I definitely don’t want that to go out the window, but at the same time, I always like to live in the moment.”
The mood of the moment, however, has changed in the past few days.
* * *
No. 2: Players upbeat over CBA reports — Nothing is official yet, but enough alleged details of the nearly completed new collective bargaining agreement between NBA management and labor had emerged for players to give some preliminary thumbs-up. It all still has to be ratified by both sides, who extended Thursday’s opt-out deadline to Jan. 13 just, y’know, in case. But for one union rep, big man Jason Smith of the Washington Wizards, the mere news of an imminent deal was a cause for happiness. From a report by the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner:
“We’re having record-high numbers in attendance, we’re having record-high numbers in viewing across the nation and internationally. So, to try to stop that like we did in 2011 would be not good for the game of basketball,” Smith said. “It’s great that we started communication. We had talks way before this was even a subject, so I think that’s a testament to how our players’ association has really gotten right. We’ve changed drastically with what we had previously with Billy Hunter, now to Michele Roberts. It’s night and day.”
In 2014, Roberts took over as the head of the NBPA.
While Smith praised the new leadership for organizing the union — “It was literally a mom-and-pop shop before. Now we have a structure that we’re building,” — he admitted that the potential deal may not be met with unanimous support from players. The proposed agreement offers no change to the annual split of basketball-related income, according to ESPN.com and Yahoo Sports.
Smith suspects that some players may view that as a concession that favors team owners.
“The big thing that I think some players might be a little iffy on is the BRI split,” Smith said. “That’s the major portion of the pie for us to not go after more like we did two lockouts ago, I think we took a bad deal in 2011 and a lot of players were wondering why we didn’t go after more this time.”
Even so, Smith views the possible deal as a win. For one thing, players like himself — veterans on mid-level contracts — will get a raise.
“Middle class is basically coming up,” Smith said. “Obviously with the new TV deal, we had record numbers of contracts, big-time contracts coming out of it. Now we have the middle guys starting to come up in the world.
“It’s better for the players as a whole.”
Other players, in a report compiled by ESPN.com, shared Smith’s enthusiasm for the tentative deal, based on what they know:
“That’s amazing, great,” Chris Paul, the president of the players association, told reporters Wednesday. “I was on the phone with [NBPA executive director Michele Roberts] today. I’m excited. I’m happy for the league. I’m happy for our fans, owners, everyone who’s involved. It’s a great thing.
Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who is the team’s player representative, greeted the news positively.
“That’s good. Better than last time,” he said. “They did a good job communicating and were able to come to an agreement tentatively. That’s a great start for both parties.”
For The Beard, there’s no fear of being sidelined by any work stoppage.
“It’s great for the league and the players and the owners and everybody to come to an agreement and hopefully not be a lockout,” said Houston Rockets star James Harden, “and we can play basketball and give these fans some exciting basketball, and everybody is happy.”
“Yippee!” said Brooklyn Nets forward Trevor Booker, the team’s players association representative. “I am just glad that we could come to an agreement. I am going to look over the deal and make sure everything is fine for my crew.”
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Booker added of any potential snags or a lockout. “I have been through a lockout before and it is no fun, but I wasn’t worried this time. Michele, she has done a great job since she has been in office.”
Nets center Brook Lopez reflected back to a previous lockout.
“I have missed plenty of time for injury and then we were locked out for a little bit. I cherish my time on the basketball court,” Lopez said. “As long as it is a good deal, fair to both sides, fair to the players, I am down with it. I love being on the court.”
* * *
No. 3: ‘Rest’ not relaxing to fans — Sports fans long have understood the risks inherent in circling special dates on their calendars and purchasing tickets for games months in advance: athletes get hurt. An injured star not only deprives those customers of his or her performance but can throw off the dynamic of the entire event. Not much to do about that besides shrug and hope for a better alignment of stars next time. But healthy players “resting?” Not even traveling to an away game to be present in street clothes? This is a recent wrinkle in the sport-fan transaction and, as evidenced by folks in Memphis Wednesday, not one so easily shrugged off. Geoff Calkins of that town’s Commercial-Appeal chronicled the LeBron James-less scene at the FedEx Forum for USA Today:
Becky Morris is a hair stylist. Her husband Justin sells video security systems. They do not have a lot of money. They have to be careful with what they spend.
But their son, Canon, had an 18th birthday coming up. And Canon Morris loves Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.
“He absolutely adores LeBron,” said Justin. “It has taken some time for him to prefer the Grizzlies to LeBron. He does now, but he still absolutely loves LeBron. So for his 18th birthday, we decided we were going all out.”
They bought tickets to the Grizzlies-Cavaliers game. Not just any tickets, tickets in the lower bowl. And not just any tickets in the lower bowl, tickets — just two tickets — that cost a total of $600.
James did not make the trip to Memphis. Neither did Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. All three players were healthy. All three players were resting in Cleveland as the Grizzlies beat the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, 93-85.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Justin. “Apart from our personal situation, people plan and spend a lot of money and sacrifice to pay for tickets. It’s really, really frustrating that teams allow this to happen, that the league allows this to happen. Canon is still enjoying the game — he is being really good about it — but it’s hard not to feel bad for the kid.”
That part, we can all agree on, can’t we? It’s hard not to feel bad for the kid. Or for any kid — or grown-up — who shelled out a lot of money to see James, Love, Irving and the champion Cavaliers. Instead, they watched Mike Dunleavy, DeAndre Liggins, Channing Frye and the substitute Cavaliers.
And here, we should acknowledge that the Cavaliers could not have known about any particular fan’s personal situation and, indeed, did not do anything other NBA teams don’t do.
The Grizzlies rested Marc Gasol during Tuesday’s game at Cleveland. They rested Mike Conley and Gasol during an earlier game against Minnesota. The San Antonio Spurs — who invented the strategy — have been resting star players for years now.
Indeed, the Spurs have demonstrated the wisdom of the relaxed approach. They have extended the careers and the effectiveness of aging stars. Eighty-two games is too much pounding for the (very large) human body. The NBA schedule is packed with too many back-to-backs.
So the smart thing to do is to pick games to sit star players. That’s what the Cavaliers — who expect to be playing well into June — did Wednesday night. If you’re going to criticize them for sitting their stars against the Grizzlies, you have to criticize the Grizzlies for sitting their stars against the Timberwolves and the Cavs
But let’s not pretend it doesn’t have an impact. Let’s not pretend that real fans don’t get the shaft.
* * *
No. 4: ‘Two bigs’ too little for Sixers — Injuries and the glacier-like pace of the Philadelphia 76ers notorious “process” — a fancy-schmancy name for just another sports-team rebuild — kept questions about the fit of multiple big men largely academic for a couple years. But the Sixers and their fans got to see, on the hardwood, how Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor would co-exist when they started Wednesday in a home loss to Toronto. Next up? Folding in fellow big Nerlens Noel, who missed this one with a sprained ankle. Keith Pompey of Philly.com had the details:
[Coach Brett] Brown said pairing the two centers was a decision in which winning and the development of players were both paramount.
“Our first year, development ruled the day,” said the fourth-year coach, whose squad lost, 123-114, to the Raptors. “We are now three years further along. We want to win games. And so this isn’t in a way [that] hurts that.”
While the Embiid-Okafor pairing had a so-so result, the Sixers (6-19) played with energy and nearly battled back from a 19-point deficit, pulling within five points twice in the final minute.
But most of the attention went to the pairing of Embiid and Okafor. Embiid lined up at power forward, where he squared off against Pascal Siakam and Patrick Patterson in the Twin Towers set. Okafor played center and battled Jonas Valanciunas.
The two played 17 minutes together and graded out at a minus-four in their first time starting together. It started off well, as the duo combined to score five of the Sixers’ first eight points.
The 6-foot-11, 265-pound Okafor finished with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Embiid, who had two scares, added a season-low nine points to go with six rebounds, five assists, one steal, two blocks, and four turnovers. The 7-2, 275-pounder twisted his left ankle during pregame warmups and rushed to the locker room. There was a concern that he wouldn’t play.
But he did and retwisted it during the game.
Embiid also went to the locker room with a bloody nose after being accidentally hit in the face with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left in the half. He returned after halftime
He looked out of sync, however, while playing out of position alongside Okafor. Embiid did not attempt his first field goal until the 11:30 mark of the second quarter. He scored on his second attempt – a one-foot tip-in – with 8:52 left in the half.
“I think for once since I’ve been a Sixer, I didn’t trust the process tonight,” Embiid said. “I was just standing. I wasn’t moving. I was just standing on the perimeter. I wasn’t active on defense.”
Meanwhile, Okafor was more comfortable, especially in the early going. Nine of his points came on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter. He was held scoreless in the second quarter after missing his two shots before adding eight points in the second half.
This was the third game in which the Sixers paired Embiid and Okafor. The first two times came in matchups against the Orlando Magic. But as Wednesday’s performance indicated, they have some work to do.
Their spacing was bad. They often ran to the same spot while being confused on where to go.
“It’s all a learning process,” Okafor said. “It’s the first time playing together [in the starting lineup]. So we are all trying to figure it out.”
* * *
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Don’t look now but the Spurs are starting to look like their old selves — and Tim Duncan has had a hand in it. … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford isn’t sure his team is tough enough to get where it wants to in the Eastern Conference. … It took James Harden just 340 games with the Rockets to do what franchise legend Hakeem Olajuwon needed 1,177 to accomplish. … Jae Crowder is getting a little frustrated with the Celtics’ lack of traction so far this season. … Red Auerbach’s last draft wasn’t exactly worthy of a victory cigar.