Russell Westbrook as a second fiddle could have gone in a lot of different directions. Through 58 games, it's proven to be a worthwhile experiment. Sharing a backcourt with James Harden, the first-year Houston Rocket has been a vital cog in a deadly, efficient, experimental small-ball trial.
Since trading Clint Capela, the Rockets are averaging 118 points per game. When Westbrook and Harden share the court, they are putting up obscene numbers. Playing with only one basketball has not proven to be an issue; each seems willing to sacrifice in order to win, which hasn't always been the case.
Despite all this, Houston sits at fourth in the Western Conference and is largely an afterthought when it comes to predicting the playoffs behind the two Los Angeles teams. There was healthy skepticism about pairing these ball-dominant alphas together. On and off-the court, though, they've done all they can to squash the worst of these fears.
Harden and Westbrook are players viewed through the individual lens. Part of the reason for that is their brilliance. Part of it is due to routine postseason disappointments. There are not many data points out there for optimism that things will change this year. This story has a predictable final chapter.
Here's the thing about knowing what's going to happen in the future, though: Sometimes you don't.
Yes, the Rockets are not the most trustworthy side. The Lakers and Clippers have depth and proven championship entities. But are we sure it's smart to dismiss a team that's going to be sending these two out at the same time? Because I'm not so sure.
Both have baggage. Individually. They don't -- or shouldn't -- have baggage together.
Houston is trying to do something markedly different and they're trying to do it with unique pieces. It may prove to be hare-brained. Or it could prove to be effective in a seven-game series and make other more talented teams adjust what they're doing?
Time will tell. Westbrook and Harden have a chance hitch their wagons to equally fast wagons. They have the opportunity to enjoy solo and duo success. It may be unlikely but it's not impossible.
Doing this, of course, would erase years and years of a true and nagging narrative. It would be a redemptive arc lost on the public. For as skilled as these guys are, they aren't warm and fuzzy stories.
One wonders if that's part of the reason the default setting is stuck on dismissive.