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March 26, 2015 Updates

When Tramel got home, after midnight, he got a text message from his niece’s husband. It was then he realized that his encounter with Westbrook was a “thing,” in the new-media sense. “Hey, Berry, just texted you to see if you’re OK,” the message read. “Just know that I still love you.” It was as if Tramel had been in a terrible accident or charged with a crime. Grantland

That was the funny thing about Tramel’s conflict with Westbrook. He and Westbrook weren’t mad at each other. Never had been, really. They didn’t even know each other, despite sharing a locker room for seven years. “I could have been from Syracuse for the way he acted,” Tramel said. “[But] that’s not really Russ’s fault, I don’t think. I think the culture created that.” By “culture,” he meant the invisible handcheck that pushes reporters away from athletes. The disconnect that permeates monthly YouTube clips starring Westbrook or Marshawn Lynch or Phil Kessel. What created such a culture? Follow me, if you will, into the Thunder locker room … Grantland

It gave the encounter the feel of a highly personal, Deion vs. McCarver grudge. But Andrew Gilman, who writes for FoxSportsSouthwest.com, said Tramel wasn’t the target. After all, the first reporter Westbrook stiffed that night was Nick Gallo, who writes for the team’s website and whose business card says “Web Content Manager.” “When people ask, ‘Why doesn’t Westbrook like you?’ I have two standard answers,” Tramel said. “My joke is: He really does, he just doesn’t know it yet. My true answer is: He really doesn’t dislike me anymore than he dislikes somebody else. He couldn’t pick me out of a crowd.” Grantland

Royce Young, who writes for ESPN and DailyThunder.com, also noticed something strange that night. Durant was watching Westbrook from two lockers over. And Durant was laughing. Grantland

But Westbrook can also be unnecessarily harsh on reporters. One night, a game ran late. Darnell Mayberry, the Oklahoman’s senior Thunder reporter, was up against deadline. He brought his laptop into the locker room to move quotes directly from the players’ lips to his copy. Mayberry sat in a chair in front of an empty locker. Westbrook saw him and told him the chairs were for players only. Mayberry got up. But then a funny thing happened. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson took his chair, wheeled it across the locker room, and offered it to Mayberry. Remember that when you wonder why Jackson now plays for the Pistons. Grantland

More than once, Durant has accused Mayberry, the toughest of the Thunder reporters, of angling for a job in a bigger market. Durant is sophisticated about the media, but he’s not above the old trick of using a perceived slight for motivation. On December 8, 2013, Paul George visited Oklahoma City. Grantland

“Durant at the All-Star Game said, ‘The media’s not our friends,’” Tramel explained. “Well, he’s right. Nobody on a serious journalism level pretends to be. But with the Thunder, there’s not even an acquaintance. There’s no relationship.” It was a gripe I heard again and again from the Thunder press corps. Nobody held a grudge against Durant or Westbrook. They knew the locker-room scrums would produce a poor harvest. What frustrated the press corps was that the players — especially Durant and Westbrook — remained largely out of reach. Grantland

But in the Thunder locker room, there’s a watchfulness that prevents all but the most formal interactions. Reporters said that nearly every time they approach a player, even with tape recorders holstered, a Thunder PR rep sidles up to listen. “If you have a conversation with a player about parenting, someone is going to be standing right there hovering and trying to steer it whichever way they think it should go,” Mayberry said. “That’s the kind of culture they’ve created here. No one has a personal relationship with any of these guys.” Grantland

This poisons the locker-room atmosphere in much the same way as limited access. “Any question I ask that’s perceived as threatening is going to look worse when these guys are asking softball questions,” Mayberry said. It turns the basic work of journalism into enemy activity. The in-house media has another effect. If Durant and Westbrook talk for tightly controlled amounts of time, questions from team employees can run out the clock. Grantland

The next time they met, Tramel asked Westbrook a question. Westbrook answered it with something other than a Lynchian catchphrase. No one remembers what was said. They simply moved on. “I’m actually more encouraged about our relationship now than I was before,” Tramel said. “Because it’s literally the first time he ever acknowledged that he knew who I was.” Grantland

March 25, 2015 Updates
March 24, 2015 Updates

Q: Who do you like watching, Mike? D'Antoni: "Golden State jumps out at me. You've got to like Oklahoma City. I mean Holy mackerel, watching Westbrook is like sitting on a roller coaster and going a thousand miles an hour. You've never seen anything like that. What he's doing?" Q: You know what's funny? Everybody always brings up Oscar Robertson as the triple-double king – and that's true – but we forget how fast they used to play. This OKC team is not playing at anywhere near the pace of those old Oscar teams, which absolutely makes your head spin. A: "No, it does. And if you watch old films, that ball is flying around and they're going. They're going. I think that if you put today's bodies (of) people and played the way they did, now you're talking. It's interesting. You know what's fun about basketball? It keeps evolving, and it keeps changing a little bit. And the older guys want to try to hold it back to how they grew up, and it's not the same. You've got to change with the times, and some of the guys you've got to drag across the finish line." USA Today Sports

We asked 25 NBA folks -- a combination of executives, coaches and players -- to rank the point guards in the NBA from 1 to 30. The results of that poll are below, along with a sampling of thoughts from those who answered our survey: The top tier The top tier of our survey included no fewer than eight 2015 NBA All-Stars, with Russell Westbrook edging Stephen Curry at the top of the list. Once an NBA question mark, Mike Conley had a solid showing in our survey, beating out the likes of Kyle Lowry and Tony Parker among those we polled. 1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (732 points, 13 first-place votes) "He might be an alien. I've never seen anyone like him before. His athleticism and antics are off the charts." -- NBA executive 2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (727 points, 9 first-place votes) ESPN.com

Kanter, in particular, has altered the dynamics of the Thunder’s offense since his arrival from Utah. He’s the first legit post-up presence OKC has had and already, in 14 games since the trade, has all five 20-10 games from a Thunder center in history. He’s averaging 17.8 points and 11.1 rebounds on 56 percent shooting this month. “No, not at all,” Adams, who defended Kanter a ton when he was with the Jazz, said when asked if he knew Kanter had this type of offensive skill. “I was like, ‘What? This is surprising.’ But I don’t know. He’s just a lot more comfortable here I think.” Oklahoman

 

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