Russell Westbrook will be a remarkable player to look back upon in 30 years. He's just a strange case that hasn't been seen in NBA history and there probably won't be another player like him. For any number of reasons.
After last night's trade, Westbrook will be on his third team in three years. He didn't work well with James Harden with the Houston Rockets last year, and thus was sent to Washington in exchange for John Wall and a first-round pick. It led to this tweet from the NBA on ESPN account.
That's a little bit mind-boggling, isn't it? Any player who has ever won the Most Valuable Player in any sport is the kind of player that teams will do literally anything to keep around. It's not strange in of itself that MVPs have played for different teams than the squad they won MVP for. Kevin Durant and LeBron James have both done it in recent history. But to trade that player? Barring injury or an end-of-career move, how could a player with the talent to win MVP get traded not only twice, but in consecutive offseasons?
It just doesn't make sense. But Westbrook hasn't ever made sense. He might be the greatest point guard of all time when you look at sheer accumulation of statistics. As was trumpeted during Westbrook's MVP season in 2016, only he and Oscar Robertson have ever averaged a triple-double for an entire season. Westbrook did it for three seasons in a row, and the streak broke in Houston last season, when he still averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game.
The point totals come in large part because Westbrook doesn't know when to stop shooting, sure. But the combined assist and rebound numbers he puts up nightly are wild for a point guard. Every other PG in the NBA can, at most, do only one of those two things at an elite level. He is literally a once-in-a-generation player, only the second of his kind we've ever seen take the floor, and he came 40 years after Robertson.
Yet it does not translate to winning basketball. It isn't particularly difficult to nail down why; we've seen our share of great statistical players in the NBA fail to win consistently because putting up big numbers does not equate to victory every time. It's a lesson learned in every sport. Nobody can win a championship as a one-man show.
But even Robertson won a title. Westbrook is ringless. Despite all the numbers, he got traded in two straight offseasons. The trade has as much to do with his contract and other off-the-court subjects as it does with his play, but it doesn't change the fact that Westbrook, four years after being handed an MVP trophy, was on the trade block and nobody wanted him.
It's strange to watch happen in real time. I watch a lot of basketball and entirely understand why it had to happen. I understand why he doesn't have a ring and why he has been unable to get out of the second round of the playoffs without Durant by his side. It all makes sense watching him play. But taking a step back, a player with those numbers and those accolades getting moved around like an unwanted family heirloom inspires a certain level of cognitive dissonance.
It'll only increase after he retires and people start tweeting (or whatever we'll be doing all of our arguing on in ten years) videos titled "People Forget Russell Westbrook Was a PROBLEM Fire Emoji". The guy is objectively one of the most exciting players in NBA history with stats never before seen and almost all the hardware to match. It will be a little bizarre looking at his name in the record books and remembering he was traded for a player who hadn't seen the court in two years at the time.
But Westbrook has always been like this. He has not changed since he entered the league. He's a screaming ball of rage on the court with the singular goal of putting the basketball in the hoop. Especially when he was young, his athletic feats were so outrageous they didn't make sense. Why should the rest of his career?