This is the first of hopefully many column posts as open letters directed to athletes, teams, fan bases, or anyone who needs to be addressed about issues in sports.
By the way, I want to give a special thanks to three of my Twitter followers who really helped me get a broader perspective on the issue I’m about to address. If you think that social medium is useless…well, you’re wrong. (By the way, if you’re into tweeting, follow me. @JustCallMeUnk)
Enough with the pleasantries. Here’s the debut of the “To Whom It May Concern” series.
Dear Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook,
First and foremost, I want to make clear that the order is intentional. More on that later on.
Gentlemen, in case you don’t know it by now, you hold the keys to the kingdom as the foundation of the Oklahoma City Thunder. You have the 2010 Coach of the Year, a hungry, tough, and talented team around you, and a fan base that worships you. You’re considered one of the top 1-2 punches in the NBA after three seasons together and you both are only 22! For all intensive purposes, you should be graduating from college this month!
The future is indeed bright for your basketball futures.
That being said, y’all have some major issues playing together…and they all stem from this question.
Which one of you is “The Man”?
Don’t feed me that press conference “We work as a team” crap. This is the most important question that needs the right answer – and FAST. With Saturday’s 93-87 Game 3 loss in the Western Conference Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, you need to win tomorrow to send the series back home. A lethargic first quarter put you and your team in an early hole, but it’s the fourth quarter comeback-that-almost-was that’s causing a lot of debate. The general public may have its theories about what specifically needs to be fixed, but I think the real issue is that offensively, you guys aren’t playing in your proper roles right now. In the regular season, you can get away with switching nights as the offensive focus.
But at this stage of the playoffs? No, no, no.
Let me take the time to address both of you separately.
Russell: Usually a 30-point performance in a loss gets you some kudos and consoling. But after Game 3, you don’t deserve any.
The label drifted in and out during the regular season, but NOW, it’s burning like a forest campfire. You, according to many, are now a “ballhog.” As a point-guard, it’s a huge insult. Only thing worse than that is “turnover machine,” and you earned that too! Aggression is always valued, but moderation is the most important aspect – and you’re not showing any of it. For half of the possessions in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, you were the only one who touched the ball! That’s inexcusable.
Now, I do understand that you were only a point-guard when you got to the NBA since you were a shooting guard at UCLA, but after three years, the words “pass first, shoot second” should be in your DNA. With fellow point-guard Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls being named the newest NBA MVP, you’re probably wondering why seemingly everyone’s riding you for these losses instead of Kevin. Well, here’s why.
Derrick Rose is “The Man”. He’s the best player on his team, hands down.
YOU ARE NOT. Sorry.
What you are is the floor general – whether you like it or not. It comes with the territory. You’ll always be handling the ball and getting it where it needs to go, so there is no reason at all why you should be forcing it on the offensive end. You committed an absurd seven turnovers yesterday…where was your focus? Funkytown, USA?
Now, for the Thunder to win, you obviously have to have a valuable offensive contribution. But you should not be playing as “The Man.” You are best utilized as “The Facilitator.” When you distribute AND score, your team is extremely tough to beat. Why else do you think coach Scott Brooks sat you for the fourth quarter of Game 2? Bottom line: You have to be pass first, shoot second.
Kevin: You may have good numbers over the first two games of this series, and Game 3′s line looks OK (a 24-12 double-double). But in the fourth quarter, where the whole nation expected you to show up and assert your dominance, you were as visible as Barry Bonds’ Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown. For 18 out of 23 possessions in the fourth quarter, you didn’t even touch the ball! You just looked totally disengaged offensively – and you’re the NBA’s leading scorer for the second year in a row.
What, are you kidding me? Forget the Gatorade commercial. You didn’t have soul, and you sure as HELL weren’t super bad.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit the Mavs’ defense for doing an admirable job of “limiting” you to the aforementioned line, but that fourth quarter gave you a decent amount of good looks to get points. There are times to be a good teammate, and there are times when you have to demand the ball.
Not ask for it. DEMAND it.
Your killer edge has been playing hide-and-seek between games. It’s time to find it and possess it for good. Night in and night out, you HAVE to be “The Man.”
I’m not saying you need to change who you are. There’s nothing wrong with being the modest, team-friendly superstar in public…so long as your squad understands that when you’re on the floor, you need the ball in clutch situations.
Now to regroup and drive the point home.
Kevin Durant – “The Man”. Russell Westbrook – “The Facilitator”.
I talked about the order of the salutation being intentional. When it comes to scoring options, it has to go Durant-Westbrook in that order. Guys, if you straighten this out, throw out the term “tough to beat”. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be downright scary.
If you don’t? Tomorrow night will be your last home game.
So, guys….what’s it gonna be? See you at tip-off.
Signed with your best interest in mind,