Why Russell Westbrook & Kevin Durant May Be A Better Combo Than LeBron & Wade
With the exception of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have arguably been the top two players in the NBA for the past half decade.
Despite ultimately failing to bring a title to Cleveland, King James has done just about everything else to assert himself as the league's top dog. A two-time defending most valuable player, LeBron's career statistics of 27.8 ppg, 7.0 apg and 7.0 rpg demonstrate that the only real "decision" teams must make when facing James pertains to which aspect of the game do they want to get burned on.
In every sense of the word, LeBron is a triple threat. Guard him close and he'll blow right by you, not hesitating to dunk on your poor teammate helplessly standing below the rim. Give him space and he'll nail a jumper in your face, an aspect of his game that has been steadily improving over the past few seasons.
Double him, and he'll probably still score on you. More often than not however, he'll use his supersonic court vision time and time again to find an open teammate for an uncontested shot.
And if he misses? Well, James will probably just grab the rebound.
Most, if not all of the same qualities could also be said for the more senior Miami Heat star, Dwyane Wade. One of the most clutch players in the game, D-Wade's electrifying talents have elevated him into a surefire future hall of famer. Not to mention, the former Marquette standout already has an NBA Championship under his belt.
With all the above taken into account, how can their possibly be a duo better than this unstoppable pair of newlyweds?
Meet Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Lewis and Clark behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, a rising midwestern power.
Although their talents may not appear compare to LeBron and Wade on the surface, some deeper exploration may prove that at the end of the day, this pair very well may end up with more rings.
Without further ado, here are ten reasons why Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may end up being a more effective duo than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Durant and Westbrook may win this one on a petty technicality, but there's no arguing against father time.
LeBron is 25. Wade is 28.
Durant and Westbrook are just old enough to have a drink, both of them are 21 years of age.
The elder couple has seven years of experience.
Nearly a half decade's difference may not seem like much at this juncture, but LeBron and Wade aren't going to stay young forever. Durant and Westbrook simply have more years to get the job done.
It is safe to say that LeBron and Wade, each seven years into their NBA careers, are riding the crest of their athletic primes. At the ripe age of 21, Durant and Westbrook may just beginning to ascend the escalator leading them to their basketball zeniths.
9. A Clearly Defined Hierarchy
Earlier, I compared the Durant-Westbrook duo to Lewis and Clark, the American pioneers who mapped out nearly the entire frontier that Thomas Jefferson acquired via the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Although the metaphorical comparisons to these men are far from sparse, the Thunder's dynamic duo may be more akin to Batman and Robin. Like Gotham city's crime stoppers, this team has a boss and a trusty sidekick.
Last year, Durant became the youngest player in league history to win the NBA scoring title. Averaging just over 30 points per contest on the season, there was no question as to who was going to get the ball when the game was on the line. Through his ability to put the ball in the basket at a freakishly high rate, Durant asserted himself as the unquestioned leader of this up-and-coming franchise.
Durant may be the alpha-male, but Westbrook is just as integral of a piece the championship puzzle in OKC. In only two seasons, his stellar court vision, considerable athleticism, and uncanny scoring process have him knocking on the door of the metaphorical home of basketball's most elite point guards.
Be it in sports, business, or even politics, the success of any entity is often dependent on whether or not each member, a. knows their role, and b. can execute that role.
8. Power Struggle In Miami?
Unlike the Thunder, the Heat do not have clearly defined roles, especially amongst the top dogs. You've probably heard these arguments more times in the past few months than the frequency at which Chad OchoCinco posts controversial tweets, so I'll give you the Cliffs Notes version:
-Before joining the Heat, LeBron was widely considered the league's best player (if not, second best).
-Before LeBron joined the Heat, Wade was considered the face of the Heat franchise. His status as the team's Alpha Dog was never questioned.
-Now that the two collided, nobody knows how James' unquestioned talents and Wade's unquestioned status will clash. Questions such as "who will take the last shot?," "who will become the leader in the locker room?," and "who will the media target as the team's scapegoat?" have yet to be answered.
Of course, the two may be so talented that together, such issues may never even arise due to an endless supply of victories. But, as history has shown, adversity often doesn't care about how talented one may be.
As Newton's second law pleasantly reminds us, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Any adversity this clan faces won't be your run-of-the-mill quick fix, simply due to the talent elicited by each player.
Remember, it was disputes between John Lennon and Paul McCartney that eventually broke up the Beatles. Will these guys be able to sing to the same tune, or will their competing talents cause in a power struggle resulting in the breakup of this band?
7. Long-term Commitment
In an interview with GQ about a month ago, James stated that he was open to finishing his career in Cleveland.
"If there was an opportunity for me to return, and those fans welcome me back, that'd be a great story."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Durant had this to say after signing a five-year extension with the Thunder this summer.
"To be here for five more years is a great feeling. Words can’t explain how excited I am.
“I’ve always been a loyal person. I just love this organization, what we stand for, which is family. I’m really big on that. This is the only place for me. I told everybody a couple of years back that I wanted to be a part of this organization, so I stuck with it.”
It is important to note that Durant staved off free agency to re-sign with the Thunder, showing tremendous commitment to the organization. By likening the Thunder to a family speaks volumes about his intentions to remain with the franchise for quite sometime.
James meanwhile, despite being a walking contradiction, suggests through this quote that his long-term future with the Heat is not set in stone.
Both Durant and LeBron are both contractually tacked on for five more years, but the statements seem to indicate that for King James, the Miami Heat may not be a long-term solution.
While it appears Durant has found the love of his life and is ready to settle down, LeBron may still have some feelings for his former romantic partner, and, despite being excited to move forward with his overwhelmingly attractive new fling, he is definitely not ready to tie the knot anytime soon.
6. The Oklahoma City Thunder: A Heliocentric Model
A duo is as only good as their supporting cast.
Kobe and Shaq may have orchestrated the Lakers' dynasty of the early 2000's, but without Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, and Rick Fox, the devious duo may have come up empty-handed.
The same goes for these two teams. Although basketball is one of the few sports where an individual performance can reign supreme on any given night, it is often tough to maintain efficiency and consistently without a little help from friends.
As I argued an article a few months ago, the Thunder's team is based upon what I dubbed a heliocentric philosophy. Although Durant is the clearly defined leader of this "solar system," all of the planets (other players) have been "orbiting" around Durant to create an efficient system, ready to wreak havoc on the rest of the proverbial NBA galaxy.
The team is behind Durant (and Westbrook) as the orchestrators of this exciting symphony of basketball. From purely a "team" standpoint, this is the exact antithesis or the Heat. Although this argument has more basis on what team will be more successful, its implications on the triumphs and failures of the respective duos is undeniable.
5. Miami Heat: A Multipolar Model
Going off the previous slide, the Heat's team credo is one drastically different than their counterpart from the Sooner state.
In what I titled a "multipolar model," the Heat reside in a system where there is "no nucleus, or gravitational center of the team. For the Heat, power is not concentrated. It is distributed and fragmented."
This argument, although related to slide No. 8, considers a macro-perspective on the leadership void down in Miami. The Heat may have more offensive weapons than a Soviet military base, but ammunition derives all of its power in its operator. Will Erik Spoelstra be able to contain and balance the competing talents and individual demands of each player?
Will the cast beyond Wade, LeBron, and even Bosh buy into any strategy proposed by the alpha dogs, even if it means adopting strategies present in second grade YMCA leagues?**
***In a second grade YMCA strategy, the best players on a team only pass to each other, and virtually nobody else.
4. What About Bosh?
A trio always runs a risk of having a third wheel. For the Miami Heat, Chris Bosh is unfortunately the odd man out.
As a Toronto Raptor, Bosh used his extreme athleticism and versatility to emerge as one of the league's top big men. On virtually any other squad, Bosh would be the unquestioned go-to guy. But with Wade and LeBron at the top of the food chain, will there be enough meat for this ex-Raptor to feast on?
What does this have to do with Wade and Bosh? Well, an unhappy Bosh may force sacrifices in terms of statistics and ball control. When sacrifices amongst superstars are made, the result is usually not what could be classified as "positive."
The Kobe vs. Shaq saga is the most prevalent example of this phenomenon, but it has also manifested itself through stars such as Allen Iverson, Baron Davis, and now, Carmelo Anthony.
Disgruntled superstars have a tendency to relegate franchises to a jenga game. If Bosh gets shafted, the effects on James and Wade could be disastrous.
3. Media Circus In Miami
This season, the Heat will get more exposure than a guido at a tanning salon. With more exposure comes more questions. With more questions, the Heat will be more prone to second-guessing themselves after every slip up.
One may easily argue that these men are professionals, and thus above, some hype. But are they?
As the decision proved, LeBron isn't by any means unhappy about being in the public eye. With a constant circus around this cast of characters, they can easily turn into a cockeyed version of a reality television show.
As for Durant and Westbrook? Well, they live in Oklahoma City.
Erik Spoelstra has quite a task ahead of him.
It will be hard enough disciplining a bunch of superstars. As Mike Brown learned the hard way, it's taxing enough dealing with one.
With an entirely new team, Spoelstra has yet to gain the trust of his players, as there are simply no results to justify his coaching philosophies. If the Heat start losing, they run the risk of becoming a class with a substitute teacher. In other words, Spoelstra (the teacher) will have no bearing on how the class is run, as power ultimately resides with the students, (players.)
To underscore this point, consider the late great John Wooden's attitudes towards trust:
"There are challenges for a leader when things are going great, but the challenges are much greater when things are going bad—whether it’s a losing streak, a competitor who seems to be taking over the market, or anything else...And bad times are a part of what leadership must deal with. That’s when you need the trust of those under your supervision. They have to believe in you."
If the Heat don't believe in Spoelstra, it will be significantly harder for LeBron and Wade to reach the promised land.
As for Durant and Westbrook? Well, Thunder front man Scott Brooks is the defending Coach of the Year.
This facet of the game cannot be overlooked. Without chemistry, even the most talented players cannot get the job done.
For further evidence, see the 2004 United States Olympic Team.
This point may end up being moot. After all, the pairing of LeBron and Wade proved to be instrumental in the United States' gold medal performance in the 2008 Beijing Games. However, their time together was also supplemented by a plethora of other superstars. Their experience together as NBA teammates is next to none, and this particular adventure may prove to be a completely different animal.
On the opposite side of the coin, Westbrook and Durant have played alongside each other nonstop for nearly the past two years. Their collective dominance on the United States national team this past summer has indicated that right now, these two may be the most cohesive duo in the entire league.
The chemistry between Wade and LeBron is largely unproven on an NBA level, while Durant and Westbrook are a solidified entity with a high degree of mutual trust.