With Kevin Durant opting to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in favor of the Golden State Warriors in the offseason, many believed the Thunder would take a major step back. While Oklahoma City is currently sitting as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, the team carries a 35-27 record and is only three games behind the Utah Jazz for the No. 4 seed.
The reason the Thunder have remained in the thick of things is Russell Westbrook. The UCLA product is currently averaging 31.7 points, 10.1 assists, and 10.7 rebounds, with only 20 games remaining in the regular season. If those numbers hold, Westbrook would join Oscar Robertson as the only two players in history to average a triple-double over an entire season.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2017
Standing just 6-foot-3, Russell leads the Thunder in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals, as he’s put the entire team on his back for the length of the season and put them in position to make noise in the playoffs. He also has a chance to put up one of the most historic seasons in NBA history, but apparently that’s not as impressive as it sounds — at least not to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Cuban made noise last season when he said he didn’t believe Westbrook was a superstar, and he reiterated those comments back in December.
“He’s putting up superstar numbers. That’s for damn sure,” Cuban said. “I’m not taking anything away from what he’s been able to accomplish, but I’m not going to change my definition. He’s putting up superstar numbers. You can’t deny that.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 2, 2017
On Sunday night, Cuban’s Mavericks will clash with Westbrook’s Thunder, and Cuban added more fuel to the fire with some pregame comments made to ESPN‘s Tim McMahon.
On Russell Westbrook’s superstar status, the Mavs owner said the following.
“The criteria hasn’t changed. And if I changed my mind, it’d ruin all the fun with you guys,” Cuban said.
If he doesn’t want to admit that Westbrook’s a superstar in the NBA, fine, but surely he can admit that Russell is an MVP candidate, right?
Mark Cuban says MVP is a toss-up between James Harden and LeBron James. Where is Russell Westbrook in that mix? “He’s not.”
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) March 6, 2017
The Rockets currently sit with a 44-19 record and hold the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference thanks to Harden averaging 28.8 points, 11.3 assists, and 8.0 rebounds under new head coach Mike D’Antoni. Cuban is absolutely correct that Harden should be at, or near the top, of every voter’s MVP ballot.
LeBron, meanwhile, has helped lead the Cavaliers to a 42-19 record and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while averaging 25.9 points, 8.9 assists, and 8.0 rebounds. He should certainly be in the conversation, but probably wouldn’t be in a number of voters’ top-three with Westbrook, Harden, and Kawhi Leonard all having amazing seasons.
If Cuban doesn’t believe that Westbrook is the NBA MVP, then that’s certainly within his rights, but to completely disqualify Russell as an MVP candidate is pretty reckless on the part of the Dallas Mavericks’ owner.
As if he hadn’t pushed enough buttons already, Mark Cuban also took some parting shots at Oklahoma City Thunder fans on Twitter.
@DarnellMayberry it’s sports. It’s supposed to be fun. I’m good with being hated by OKC fans. I don’t like them much either :)
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) March 6, 2017
Maybe Cuban’s words will be the start of a rivalry between the Mavericks and the Thunder, but more than likely, it’ll just light a fire under Russell Westbrook who already plays with a major chip on his shoulder.
[Featured Image by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images]