West­brook can’t do it all by him­self

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

We’re all role play­ers. Some are smaller than oth­ers. Oth­ers en­joy more fame and ac­claim. Some are taken for granted; some get more credit than mer­ited. But in the end, a role is a role. The MVP-can­di­date or end-of-the-bench cheer­leader. The com­pany clerk or the CEO. The school prin­ci­pal or school cus­to­dian. Each has a job and can be graded on in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance.

I men­tion this in ref­er­ence to Rus­sell West­brook, who took of­fense to a ques­tion af­ter Ok­la­homa City’s loss Sun­day against Hous­ton. A re­porter asked Thun­der cen­ter Steven Adams, essen­tially, why the team strug­gles so much when West­brook heads to the bench and if the Rock­ets seem rein­vig­o­rated when the Thun­der’s su­per­star de­parts.

For con­text, Hous­ton had just won a 113-109 af­fair in which West­brook had 35 points, 14 points and 14 re­bounds. Dur­ing 39 min­utes with him on the court, the Thun­der was plus-14. Dur­ing the nine min­utes — nine min­utes! — that West­brook rested, the Thun­der was mi­nus-18.

Through four games in the se­ries, OKC is plus-3 with him and mi­nus-40 with­out him.

“I don’t want no­body try­ing to split us up,” West­brook said be­fore Adams could an­swer. “We are one team. We’re in this to­gether. Don’t try to make us go against each other. I don’t want to hear that. We play­ing as a team and that’s all that matters.”

That’s an ad­mirable re­sponse, I sup­pose, good­hearted and well-in­ten­tioned. West­brook is re­ject­ing the “me and my guys” style of lead­er­ship em­ployed mas­ter­fully by Le­Bron James and com­i­cally by Paul Ge­orge.

But the re­sponse was a bit naïve and disin­gen­u­ous, too.

Imag­ine if Cap­i­tals goal­tender Braden Holtby stood on his head with his hair aflame and stopped 59 of 60 shots against Pitts­burgh on Thurs­day while Washington went 0-for-8 on power plays and lost. Or con­sider what we’d think if Max Scherzer went the dis­tance in a one-hit­ter with 21 strike­outs and no walks, but the Na­tion­als lost.

Ask­ing what hap­pened to every­one else (be­sides Holtby and Scherzer) in those in­stances is fair. Clearly two guys ex­celled at work while their team­mates … not so much. Point­ing out the dis­crep­ancy isn’t an at­tempt to sep­a­rate the team. In­quir­ing minds want to know what play­ers think about it, but West­brook of­fered con­struc­tive crit­i­cism for such queries.

“Say, ‘Rus­sell you haven’t played well at all,’” he sug­gested. “Say, ‘Rus­sell and the team hasn’t played well.’” Don’t say, ‘When Rus­sell goes out, the team doesn’t play well.’ That doesn’t mat­ter. We’re in this to­gether.”

In terms of bot­tom-line grades — wins and losses — ab­so­lutely. The same is true when dif­fer­ent kinds of teams are graded on an­nual profit, sales num­bers, re­peat vis­its, test scores, etc.

But in­di­vid­u­als also re­ceive their own report cards and per­for­mance re­views. Giv­ing West­brook an A-plus and backup Nor­ris Cole a D-mi­nus doesn’t change the fact that both took an L.

High-pro­file gigs such as pres­i­dent, coach, CEO and MVP-can­di­date must ac­cept more per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for group fail­ure. Fair or not, it comes with the ter­ri­tory, like say­ing such-and-such quar­ter­back never won a Su­per Bowl.

West­brook’s job — like the part played by Le­Bron, James Har­den, Kawhi Leonard and Washington’s John Wall, among oth­ers — is to be his team’s best player, no mat­ter what. They are lead­ing men.

They can’t do it alone, how­ever. Each one needs con­tri­bu­tions from the seven or eight team­mates who en­ter the game. A bucket here and a re­bound there. A few as­sists. Timely fouls. Key de­fen­sive stops.

It’s a team game and there’s no “I’ in team. There is, how­ever, a “me.”

Some play­ers love the at­ten­tion that comes with the spotlight. Fine. That’s more per­son­al­ity trait than char­ac­ter flaw, more like the dif­fer­ence be­tween ex­tro­verts and in­tro­verts.

But West­brook has strug­gled to make the Thun­der’s sea­son about them more than him. As he amazed us on a nightly ba­sis and broke the 55-yearold record for triple-dou­bles, he was loathe to dis­cuss the sig­nif­i­cance. It was all about the team, whether OKC won or lost, not in­di­vid­ual bril­liance.

He ful­filled his role all sea­son and did it again on Sun­day. He still doesn’t want us harp­ing on the ob­vi­ous, his team­mates’ glar­ing short­com­ings that de­fine his MVP can­di­dacy. He knows, they know and we know.

It’s OK, Russ. We get it.

The Thun­der is one team and some of y’all aren’t very good in your roles.

That’s just life.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ok­la­homa City is plus-three with Rus­sell West­brook in the lineup and mi­nus-40 with­out him in the first round.

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