Russell Westbrook stands alone in Oklahoma City. Again. For the second time in three years, an All-Star teammate and MVP candidate has bolted town, leaving him behind.
Paul George went to the Oklahoma City Thunder and asked for a trade. The franchise obliged, sending him to the Los Angeles Clippersin exchange for an insane haul of draft picks, to go along with Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
George clearly wanted out of Oklahoma City just one year after signing a four-year, $137 million deal. It wasn’t his on-court play that was the problem. George was an MVP finalist in 2019 and was named First-Team All-NBA for the first time. During the 2018-19 season, he averaged career-highs in points (28.0), rebounds (8.2), assists (4.1), steals (2.2) and minutes (36.9) per game. He flourished and even posted a career-best PER (23.32).
So why did he want out? Well, returning home to Los Angeles was likely a big part of the equation, but also teaming up with Kawhi Leonard was probably even more important.
In just two years with the Thunder, George realized what Kevin Durant had several years before: there is no path to a championship with Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is a phenomenal individual player. He won the MVP in 2017, has been an eight-time All-star, a two-time First Team All-NBA selection, five-time Second Team pick and a Third Teamer in 2019. There is no questioning the 30-year-old’s individual ability on the court. The problem comes with making other players better and his relationships with his teammates.
Westbrook dishes out plenty of assists, but rarely does he make those around him better. He constantly plays hero-ball when things get tight and the Thunder have suffered as a result. He has also never seemed to full gain the trust of his star sidekicks. He famously clashed with James Harden and his breakup with Durant was just as messy. Now we know George wasn’t happy either:
Since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City following the 2015-16 season, the Thunder have yet to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. That comes despite Westbrook’s gaudy statistics.
Paul George left the Thunder because teaming up with Leonard was going to be easier than teaming up with Westbrook. For the second time in three years, Westbrook has to deal with losing a superstar teammate. There is only one common denominator in both departures: Westbrook himself.