Paul George was sitting on his couch and saw it flash across the ticker at the bottom of NBA TV. Carmelo Anthony was on his way to George’s house when his phone started blowing up. Billy Donovan was sitting at his desk, when all the sudden Russell Westbrook flashed a thumbs up sign through his door.
Thunder fans will all likely remember where they were when Westbrook re-signed with the team for the long term on Friday afternoon. So do Thunder players and staff. At Saturday’s practice, Westbrook’s colleagues were thrilled about the news.
“I was happy,” Anthony said. “I think everybody should be happy and excited about right now and the future. He’s a cornerstone of this organization. He’s proven that yesterday by agreeing to that deal and not only showing this organization his commitment but also showing the city of Oklahoma (City) his commitment to them too.”
“We’ve been on an unbelievable start right now,” George added. “For him to be committed here, it says a lot. Not only in us pairing together but knowing what type of dude Russ is and his values and his beliefs. Him being committed in this organization says a lot.”
For everyone in the Thunder building, of course there’s an understanding about what Westbrook’s commitment means to them, to the team and the people all around them. More than anything, however, people like Donovan are thrilled that Westbrook is happy to be in Oklahoma City, wants to continue being a leader and will be a representative of the organization for years to come.
“As talented and great of a player he is, I also think the other thing is that he represents the organization very well,” Donovan said. “He’s very appreciative and grateful for the people of Oklahoma. There are a lot of positives and a lot to be excited for because going forward, the future is bright.”
– Tomorrow will be Westbrook’s first opportunity to speak about the new contract, and it’ll also be the public’s first chance to watch the Thunder in action. The team’s annual Blue and White Scrimmage will be held at Edmond North High School at 2 p.m. and will be livestreamed by the team at okcthunder.com. Fans will certainly be excited to see what this team is made of, but so will the players, even ones of Anthony’s stature in the league.
- “I’m always looking forward to those scrimmage games,” Anthony said. “It’s always good for the fans to see the energy that we’re creating inside these walls and the camaraderie and the bond that we’re starting to create within this first week of training camp. They get a first glimpse of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to be.”
– Part of the process in the early going is nailing down the identity of the team and then sorting out some of the x’s and o’s, but from a general standpoint, the Thunder’s leaders feel that this team has a chance to thrive because of the personalities. On Saturday, Anthony said that there’s an air of mutual accountability in the group that pushes everyone to be at the top of their games.
- “I feel like I can hold Russ accountable. I feel like I can hold Paul accountable and vice a versa. And not just those two guys but everybody on the team,” Anthony said. “If we can hold everybody accountable, I think we’ll have some success in this league.”
– For years, the city and organization have allowed there to be a “players first” mentality in the community and within the team. For newcomers like Anthony and George, it’s been something that they had to experience to understand. Both delivered some eye-opening quotes about what it’s like to been like to be a member of the Thunder so far.
- Anthony: “I’m like born again a little bit. I feel like I’m in college again. It’s like a college campus. Being around in the city is like that college feel. That energy and that joy I have with the game of basketball, I can feel it. I wake up, I feel it around the guys. I feel it when I’m out and about. That energy is different. The energy never lies and the vibes never lie. I think you guys will see something special.”
- George: “This is a first class organization. Unbelievable. From Clay Bennett, Sam Presti, everyone in the front office, the coaching staff, just off the charts everywhere across the board. They dedicate everything to their players and they cater. It’s honestly the red carpet rolled out day after day. As a player when all you have to focus on is your work and being on the court and performing, that’s really what it’s about. You don’t have to have any distractions elsewhere when you can come in and you can dedicate your time to your craft. That’s what you’re allowed to do here. You enjoy that.”