Watching the pre-game show for the 3rd game in the series between the Mavs and the Thunder, it’s extremely obvious Magic Johnshon knows his stuff. He is going on and on about how Kendrick Perkins is more of a liability than an asset on the court particularly against the Mavs. Although Nick Collison is not a starter in this league, just a solid back up, and you don’t typically change your starters in the middle of a series, Dirk is just that good. Dirk Nowitzki is probably the most underrated superstar in the game. It doesn’t matter whose guarding Dirk..he’s going to get his. And seeing as Perk is limited offensively I can see why Magic would say that.
The real problem is that the Thunder lack an identity. Who exactly is the leader in Oklahoma? Kevin Durant is supposed to be the best player, yet he seems to lack that authority that comes with that position. He seems to be too nice. As a result Westbrook is stepping up and filling in the leadership void that Durant has left. The only problem is that Westbrook isn’t a superstar, at least not yet. Kevin Durant needs to step up his game. I’m not talking his basketball game. I’m talking his leadership game. Michael Jordan wasn’t nice. Larry Bird wasn’t nice. Kobe Bryant isn’t nice. I’m not sure what happened to his mean streak, perhaps it was coached out of him, but until Kevin Durant develops a nasty side he will always be “just” a great player.
However it’s understandable, Kevin Durant is still young. Perhaps as he matures he will realize that always being the nice guy, especially on the court, will never win him a championship. The guy is good — but he isn’t bad. That’s why the Thunder are limited. In this day and age of nice superstars, it’s still the mean ones that win championships. The elitism of Tim Duncan, the stubbornness of Kobe Bryant the downright nastiness of Kevin Garnett, this is the attitude that propels champions.
But it’s not all bad news. There are signs that Kevin Durant has had enough of the nice guy act. He seems to be developing a more aggressive and assertive disposition on the court. However, unless he changes fundamentally within the next couple days it will not be enough. Not against a battled tested Dallas, and certainly not against a star studded Miami team that is probably going to be waiting for them in the NBA finals. The Thunder are more a team of the future.
If the Thunder are going to win this series, or the championship, they are going to have to make some fundamental decisions as to who exactly is who on that team. There is no way a savvy veteran team is going to fall to a bunch of youngsters unless those youngsters come out and play mean ball. Kevin Durant, being the leader of that team, is going to have to be meanest of them all if he hopes to win his first NBA title this season.