Thunder’s Big Three will need to make sacrifices for success
Former alpha dogs vow to share load with MVP Westbrook in quest for success
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George have accomplished nearly everything in their basketball careers.
Westbrook is a two-time scoring champion, two-time AllStar MVP and the reigning league MVP. Anthony is a 10-time All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist. George is a four-time All-Star, former most improved player award winner and an Olympic gold medalist.
None of the new Oklahoma City Thunder teammates have an NBA title.
They say that is what drives this version of the NBA’s latest Big Three.
“It’s a different energy, a different focus, a different motivation that myself have, Paul has and Russ has, being that we haven’t won a championship yet in our careers,” Anthony said. “We see that, and that’s our ultimate goal.”
It’s every NBA player’s goal, but few have what it takes to win a title or are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get to the top.
Westbrook, who recently signed a reported five-year, $205 million extension with OKC, averaged a triple-double last season and broke Oscar Robertson’s single-season record for triple-doubles in a season with 42. But he didn’t have much help offensively, and the Thunder lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Oklahoma City added George in an offseason trade with Indiana, then once the possibility of Anthony leaving New York became real, George helped Anthony add Oklahoma City to his list of possible destinations since he had a no-trade clause in his contract.
“You know, it’s awesome to have guys that want to play alongside you and team up with you and share a mission
with you, so we got right to it,” George said. “The same for Russ. Those two are pretty close. We all were kind of in the loop on what was going on and we made it possible.”
For this union to work there will need to be sacrifices, especially by Anthony.
He has been a lead scorer his entire career, and last season, he averaged 22.4 points. He is the No. 25 scorer in NBA history with more than 24,000 points.
He is heading into territory that it took other All-Stars some time to adjust to, most recently Kevin Love in Cleveland and Chris Bosh in Miami.
“I didn’t want to come here to try to outshine Paul or Russ and vice versa,” Anthony said. “We’re trying to win basketball games, and by any means necessary, we’re going to do that. I’m going to bring my skillset to this team, to this organization, and that’s what I’m here for.”
He likes the fact that he won’t have to score as much with this team, though he is still an elite scorer and plans to get buckets.
“It’s different though, because I don’t want to take the load on of I have to do it and score 30, 40, 50 points every night,” Anthony said. “But, I mean, I score. That’s what I do. I can’t take that away from me. Being that I do that very well, I think this team needs that, along with some other things.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said the team might not immediately click.
“I can write the stories for all of you the first time that we look sloppy or we drop a game here or there or we’re working things through, you know,” he said. “That’s natural, and I wouldn’t say you guys shouldn’t react that way. But the vision for our team and the way we’ve gone about our business is to always see things for what they can be and not for what they are, and I think we’ll know what we can be after 82 games.”
George said all three players approach the game the right way, so he has no doubts that eventually, they will make it work. He knows how to play with Anthony because both were on the gold medal-winning USA team in Rio.
“... I’m not worried about shots, neither are those two guys. We want to win, and that’s it.”
The early returns appear to be good for Westbrook. He is shooting 53.6 percent from the field in the preseason while taking advantage of the extra space created by his new teammates.
“We’ve got to figure out the best way for everybody to play and for our team to play,” Westbrook said. “That part is easy in my opinion — just being able to go out, and you have one goal, and that is win a championship. Guys will do what needs to be done to win a championship.”
Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony shoots over Melbourne United center Josh Boone on Sunday in Oklahoma City. ‘I didn’t want to come here to try to outshine Paul or Russ and vice versa,’ Anthony said. ‘We’re trying to win basketball games, and by any means necessary, we’re going to do that.’