Russell Westbrook: Choose your own adventure

Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images   Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images   Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images   Photo by Simon Bruty /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images Photo by Simon Bruty /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images /

“Russell, it’s official.”

The lid to your Swarovski-encrusted coffin/hyperbaric chamber has been opened and a familiar voice stirs you from your restless slumber on the morning of July 4th. This was the news you had expected to hear although you had hoped that there might be a last-minute change of heart.

Instead, you barely have enough time to enter into your journal what you remember of your white-knuckling dreams (‘I, Russell Westbrook, cradled the ball as I rose to dunk over the fiery demon. He smelled like Bogut.’) before adjusting to the blinding realization of life without Kevin Durant. This was a man who had once called you a brother and, now, had chosen to join someone else’s family.

You angrily climb out of bed and begin to dress, choosing to forgo the usual process of picking random phrases to inspire your ensemble — besides what could top yesterday’s pairing of “tangerine”, “cowboy” and “cheese grater”? It’s a holiday, after all, so you choose a shirt lined of bald eagle feather and trousers made from the same parchment on which the Constitution was written. Patriotism is very important.

Breakfast seems like a logical next step but you don’t have much of an appetite. Instead, it’s time for you to focus on your future, something you rarely consider as you barrel down the lane at 100 miles per hour, or elect to wear an outfit like this in public. You have options, lots of them, and you know that you have to make a decision soon. Fans and media might think the choice belongs to someone else but, undoubtedly, it’s up to you where you want to play this year and beyond.

You are Russell Westbrook, aged 27, millionaire, fashion expert and occasional basketball player, and it’s time to figure out what your next chapter will be.

After carefully selecting the right glove/vest combination for this conversation, you immediately contact your agent.

“Agent,” you say, “This is Russell Westbrook.” You pause to allow the weight of that statement to sink in. “Kevin’s decision to leave the Thunder has me really ticked off. But I’ve made a decision on what I want to happen next, and I think you should know all about it…”

You stare off into the distance, looking past the Olympic-sized pool and guest house that you’ve converted into a full-length catwalk and photo studio. You breathe deeply, close your eyes, and begin to say the words that will change the NBA forever.

If you choose to force a trade, continue reading here…

For the past eight seasons, Oklahoma City has been your second home, helping you to grow as a person and a player and as leading expert in the world of men’s fashion. It’s not an easy decision, but you think it’s time for a change. And change — like deciding to wear that antique diving helmet with a ripped tuxedo vest before Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals — can be good.

“I think I’d like to explore trade opportunities,” you tell your agent.

Against their better judgement, your agent agrees to contact Thunder general manager Sam Presti and explains the situation. Presti knows enough of your personality to understand that once you’ve set your mind to something — like pulling up for a contested jumper on a 3-on-1 fast break — there’s no changing it.

There are multiple suitors for your talents and the cache of adding a big name to their roster. The Lakers, with their core of young, unproven talent, is a good choice. The Boston Celtics, with an interesting mix of veterans, youth and quality coaching, makes the most sense. Other options (Cleveland, New York, Miami) are more or less appealing for various reasons but would be more complicated and, frankly, too confusing given your upcoming preparations for Fashion Week.

The caveat of any trade is that any team that acquires you is likely to want assurance that you’ll re-sign with the team once your contract expires at the end of the upcoming season. It’s a compromise — and you hate compromise — but it’s one you eventually agree to. After minutes of agonizing deliberation, you and your agent agree to a trade with your hometown Lakers.

Los Angeles will have to give up quite a bit to lure you back home, including one of their current crop of young players (either D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram…maybe Julius Randle), and likely several future draft picks, but you’re excited about the idea of leading whoever’s on the roster and making it work somehow, returning the Lakers to the glory that’s been denied them for a whole six seasons.

You’re confident that you can work alongside Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov (he’s no Kendrick Perkins, though!) and that the bright lights of the Staples Center will only accentuate the talents that have been in the backseat while Kevin drove the Thunder.

Unfortunately, the team has sacrificed too much to bring you on board and mediocrity is still in the cards. Your numbers climb with each passing season but the playoffs are always a struggle; sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t but a title isn’t going to happen. Eventually, you retire having gone without a championship but comfortable in the knowledge that you were the unquestionable leader of the team.

If you choose to remain in Oklahoma City this year but want to become a free agent at season’s end, continue reading here…

You tell your agent that you’ll want to play your cards close to your vest, even sending him an Instagram photo of a vest you just designed out of playing cards…perfect for formal events of all kinds.

“I think I want to stay in OKC for a year, Agent,” you say mysteriously, “and see what happens next summer.”

Your agent contacts Presti immediately, indicating that you’d like to stay with the team this year. In a frightening display of emotion, Presti sheds a single drop of sweat and immediately goes through a week-long purification process in the Himalayas. Once he returns to his office in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, he is calm and ready to work.

Having traded away James Harden and not having heard the end of it (four years ago!) and losing Kevin for nothing this past summer, Presti knows there’s no way he’s going to allow Westbrook to just play the year and, perhaps on a whim, choose a new team to join.

He’ll wait until the mid-season trade deadline to make a move and banks — rightfully — that your anger at Durant’s decision will fuel you to unprecedented levels of production for the first few months of the season; the MVP award is almost guaranteed to be yours.

With your value at an all-time high, Presti secures a trade with your hometown Lakers, where you spend the rest of your career putting up gaudy, empty numbers on a team that will never win a title. Bearing a strikingly similar career arc to a certain retired player, you are widely embraced by Lakers fans that continue to experience a sense of deja vu while still relentlessly clinging to the idea that every free agent will continue to chose Los Angeles as their future team.

If you choose to sign an extension with Oklahoma City and spend the next few years of your career there, continue reading here…

The fire that drives you burns at an all-time high and Kevin’s decision has only fueled it further. You picture him laughing with Steph, Klay and Draymond…talking about your shot selection…making fun of your outfit choices during the playoffs. It’s more than you can stand.

A trade makes sense on a lot of levels, and so does leaving the team through free agency. You’re not sure if you can lead a team — in truth, you’ve never had to. Teammates more level-headed than you were always there to temper your rage. And, suddenly, you experience a moment of clarity where you understand exactly why it was that you and Kevin could play so effectively together. Your styles were both complementary and diametrically opposed, weights that are counterbalanced so perfectly to create a surprisingly harmonious balance.

But with Kevin gone (laughing, smiling), now it is up to you to provide the balance and leadership that you had always needed to share.

You inform your agent that Oklahoma City is the only place for you and you agree to a multi-year extension to keep you in a Thunder uniform for the rest of your playing career.

And what a career it is. You somehow manage to direct that rage in a careful and purposeful way, forging the sword that cleaves preconceived notions about you in two. Discussions about your positional fit become moot; no one questions your shooting ever again. You have finally let Westbrook be Westbrook, and it is the finest version of you ever imagined.

Without Kevin in the lineup, your production soars to new heights but each point is scored with incredible purpose, each pass made with perfect precision. You become the kind of teammate that players flock to join not rush to leave and the Thunder continue to find a way to thrive. A title eludes you but you have become a patient man.

Years pass and the Warriors have lost their fight with time. Players have abandoned the team after the gluttony of success and looked to define the end of their careers elsewhere. As such, the Western Conference is once again vulnerable and open to be conquered.

And finally, at long last, you deliver a championship to Oklahoma City, firing the perfect pass to a wizened Dion Waiters, who hits the game-winning shot over the outstretched hand of LeBron James, who elects to retire upon losing the 2019 Finals.

If you choose to give up basketball and focus your attention completely on fashion, continue reading here…

Having played alongside Kevin for so many years, you know first-hand how good he is and just how great the Warriors are likely to be next season. It pains you greatly — like being unable to wear skinny jeans in Minnesota during February — but you realize that a title is never going to happen in Oklahoma City.

Knowing you can’t possibly win as much as you’d like to as a basketball player, you decided to redirect your ruthless competitive spirit into the world of fashion. The world of NBA Twitter is completely shocked at your decision but something about this feels…just perfect.

If anything, your experience as an athlete prepares you perfectly for the cutthroat world of high-end couture. As each season passes, you become recognized as one of the most creative and daring designers; there is no pairing that you refuse to explore. Within years, you’ve become as dominant in Milan and Paris as you ever were in Oklahoma City or San Antonio.

Decades later, from your house along the French countryside, you sit outside to smell the fragrant blooming of flowers at dusk. A group of children play rowdily nearby and you smile at their carefree spirit; a leathery-sphere caroms off a girl’s foot and rolls slowly toward you.

You look down at it as if in a dream. As you reach down to pick it up with long fingers that still possess an unexpected strength, a hint of recognition breaks across your face. But it passes quickly and you hand the girl the ball before sitting back down, and renewing your appreciation for the setting sun as it melts slowly into the horizon.

It’s been a good life, after all, you think to yourself, before closing your eyes and falling into a peaceful, gentle rest.

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