OAKLAND, Calif. — Russell Westbrook understands the “real brotherhood” Paul George mentioned he had formed with his point guard and Carmelo Anthony.
“It’s an evolution. When you get a chance to pretty much be with somebody pretty much every day, you’re with your teammates more than your family throughout the season, you get an opportunity to kind of know who guys are, know what their interests are, understand a little about their journey, about their family, and that creates a brotherhood,” Westbrook said. “It makes you closer, it brings you closer, not just as teammates, but as brothers, as well.”
George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview which aired over the weekend that he, Westbrook and Anthony had formed “a real brotherhood” since George’s arrival in Oklahoma City. The Thunder completed a trade for the now five-time All-Star just before the start of 2017 free agency.
OKC coach Billy Donovan attributed the bonding to the ups and downs of the Thunder season, whether the year’s slow start or the way it's dipped lately, losing four consecutive games heading into Tuesday night’s match at the Golden State Warriors.
“When you’re going through a difficult time in terms of trying to figure out how you’re playing together, what happens is it actually brings you closer together because that’s when you find out how strong the relationships really [are], when somebody’s struggling or somebody’s having a hard time or someone’s not comfortable or someone’s out of sorts or out of sync and then you have a bunch of people that are trying to help you,” Donovan said. “I think that’s what’s gone on. And I said this from the beginning, I feel very confident about the group because of their ability to communicate and work with one another and try to constantly work to get better.”
• High praise: Warriors star Kevin Durant believes that injured Thunder wing Andre Roberson is “probably the best” defender in the NBA, Durant told reporters at Tuesday morning’s shootaround.
Roberson ruptured his left patellar tendon a week-and-a-half ago, ending his season. It’s something to which Durant, a friend of Roberson’s who missed a heavy portion of the 2013-14 season with foot injuries, can relate.
“I let him know I’m here if he ever needs to talk or anything because I’ve been through it, you know, injuries and how you feel when you’re going through them,” Durant said. “Just try to give him somebody else to lean on if he needs some advice or just some encouragement. I’ll always be here for him.”
Westbrook, too, broadcast a Roberson-related message Tuesday for people, as he would say, across the world. Roberson wasn’t just a defensive stopper. He helped on both sides of the ball.
“People outside our building, people across the world always complained about different things Andre didn’t do instead of embracing all the great things he did do,” he said. “I always embraced Andre and was always very happy he was on my team on both sides of the ball. He’s cutting, running the floor, a lot of things you can’t teach. That’s a big part of our team and our success.”
• Helping along: Rookie wing Terrance Ferguson struggled while starting the first five games in Roberson’s absence, going scoreless in four of them and failing to make a shot in any. Donovan elected to start third-year contributor Josh Huestis on Tuesday.
Westbrook, however, is trying to help Ferguson along. One thing he knows for certain: he can’t get him to play the same way Roberson did.
“No, no, no. You can’t do that. There’s only one Andre Roberson. There’s only one Terrance Ferguson,” Westbrook said. “You’ve got to let him play the way he plays, and we’ve got to play off of Terrance.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.