In Staying with OKC, Russell Westbrook Reveals More Than His Words Ever Have

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterAugust 4, 2016

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court during the game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 30, 2016 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

For years we've debated and argued and probed the relationship between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, trying to decipher what they thought of each other and, more importantly, what they think of themselves.

Now we know.

What was downright unnatural and unseen in NBA history is now in the past: two MVP-caliber players coexisting happily in their overlapping primes, melding their egos, sharing the ball and avoiding killing each other…all while not winning a title.

After eight years of that unfulfilling stability, we have Durant going to that side and Westbrook staying on this side.

It makes sense in an NBA way.

If the results aren't there, stars usually opt to realign in order to shine brighter.

We expect and understand it, and the truth is that it does help us to see stars for who and what they are.

Westbrook agrees.

For all the breathless conclusions that Durant abandoned Westbrook and the automatic speculation that Westbrook wouldn't be able to deal with it, he is flat-out declaring his intention to win on his own by agreeing to a new contract with the Thunder, according to NBA sources.

It's something Thunder general manager Sam Presti trusted would happen, and Westbrook's boundless confidence made him duty-bound to try.

Don't be simplistic and think only of how much ball usage and stat production Westbrook will get out of this. He is a far more sophisticated thinker than most people believe, and he truly wants to see what he can do—for himself and for a franchise that has done right by him.

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  (L-R) Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors sits with Kevin Durant while they speak to the media during the press conference where Durant was introduced as a Golden State Warrior after they signed him as a free agent o
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

While Durant chose to play new-school ball on easy street with the nearly-sure-thing Golden State Warriors, Westbrook wants the colossal challenge of being an old-school main man saddled with the outsized responsibility to will an underdog team someplace no one expects it can go.

See how much we've learned about them already?

Separating them clarifies them.

Although he's averse to sharing his deeper truths and strongest convictions with the media, Westbrook has a voice on the basketball court, where he lets loose—and even in the locker room, where he is a funny, even sweet, influence. But if we accept that he doesn't care to open the window to his soul for strangers, we begin to understand what he is actually doing.

He is a person for whom actions speak louder than words.

Westbrook's public silence since Durant's July 4 decision to go to the Warriors was interpreted as a sign of anger or abandonment, because most don't envision Westbrook as a deep thinker who wanted to sort through his options and refrain from any emotional decisions.

Well, he didn't drive blindly and angrily right toward the basket. He also didn't take his ball and go home.

He collected his thoughts, appreciated how well-run the Thunder organization is and grew excited about guiding a young crew of Steven Adams (23), Victor Oladipo (24), Enes Kanter (24), Andre Roberson (24), Cameron Payne (21) and Domantas Sabonis (20).

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook #0 talk prior to game six of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

And there is no stronger statement he could make than agreeing to stay in Oklahoma City at least through the next two seasons, giving him and the team a fair shot at seeing how formidable Adams and Oladipo can become with his help.

Even before Westbrook is forced to offer some explanation for himself in a news conference about his contract, we know more about him.   

His decision to stay speaks for itself. And his actions off the court already indicated he's not just some boiling-over pot of chili. He's a family guy, a low-key guy, the kind of guy who prefers to visit fashion and fame rather than be completely bound to that life.

Westbrook's choice just paints a clearer picture of his priorities.

It's not necessarily wrong given what he can accomplish by leaving, but Durant prioritized opportunity over loyalty. By staying, Westbrook is focused on his own sort of opportunity based on loyalty.

Westbrook has never been the clear leader of the Thunder, given that Durant was already with the franchise when Westbrook arrived in 2008.

The closest he got was in 2014-15, when Durant missed most of the season with injury. Westbrook went nuts—triple-doubles everywhere, his efficiency increasing rather than decreasing, even defensive improvement.

There are valid questions about how Westbrook is going to make the most of this now with Durant gone. Is Westbrook, deep down, a little scared he's going to get hurt taking this attack mentality to its fullest tilt?

Since Westbrook isn't apt to outline his plans through spoken word, we'll have to settle for seeing him in action. It's worth noting, though, that he has been preparing for this greater challenge in more ways than one his entire career.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a layup in front of Shaun Livingston #34 of the Golden State Warriors in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 3
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Let's flash back to 2013, when Westbrook underwent the first of three surgeries in an eight-month span related to the repair of a torn meniscus in his right knee. He and the Thunder could have chosen to simply remove the meniscus, which would have had Westbrook back on the court sooner, but they decided to be painstakingly careful and preserve the cartilage for long-term effect, even though it made for a disjointed season.

And with Westbrook missing almost half the games, Durant turned it into his MVP season.

See how much we learn when they're apart?

Nothing will ever change how admirable their efforts to work together and keep the peace were, even if the results were not there.

Now that they've chosen real change, it makes sense—and it will be fascinating to watch at both ends.

Durant might be part of something legendary, while Westbrook finally gets to test his limits.

    

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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