Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 5/27/12
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These NBA playoffs, at some level, always have been about Miami forward LeBron James his failures and ultimately his bid for redemption. He is not alone, not at all. Only Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is playing for salvation, not redemption. He has to save himself from an image created a year ago as kind of a PITA a Pain In The A that is not entirely fair and definitely not true. Westbrook has been called selfish, a punk, an anathema to Kevin Durant and an awful point guard. Reporters have used him as a platform to relive basketball glory real and imagined on how to best play his role. He has been criticized and vilified and otherwise categorized. Most of this is media wanting Westbrook to be an athlete in an image we feel comfortable with, a happy-happy nice guy. And a little of this is his own doing because of how he handled himself in the playoffs a year ago. This is probably a good time to mention I like Westbrook, how he plays and how he acts. The world is better for having Durants. It also needs Westbrooks. They work well together, the combo of selfless and basketball selfish. Every team needs a PITA, the guy who is not afraid to leave a series with the other team hating him. The problem Westbrook made a year ago was the team who disliked him a year ago was his own. "We were lucky," a Dallas Maverick told me back then, "that that kid lost his (bleep)." It was not that the Mavericks were lucky to win the series. They were not. They were the better team. It was more that the task was made easier by Westbrook falling apart. In what was the decisive Game 5 of the West finals, he was a nonfactor. And this came on the heels of his Game 2 meltdown. The story is the kid would not get the ball to Kevin Durant. He could not because he was looking for his own shot and he was missing and turning it over. So Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks yanked him and told him to "pass the ball". What happened next is what fuels Skip Bayless' rants. He was cussing and scowling and ended his night on the bench. He never got back in that game and Oklahoma City never really had a chance in the series. They tried to say this had nothing to do with Westbrook. The thing is it fits the narrative of Westbrook as a talented problem in Oklahoma City. Then something happened. Westbrook started to grow up. After agreeing to a five-year, 80M extension, Westbrook has been good, exceptionally good this year. In the Lakers series, he carried the Thunder in Game 4 until Durant caught on. He finished with 37 points and followed that up in Game 5 by creating what turned out to be the pivotal play of the game. He had a steal, then tossed in a crazy scoop shot while getting fouled. That did not redeem him. Nor did that save him. Westbrook earned a reputation for being too volatile, too reckless and too immature in last season's West finals, and it is here he must fight that battle. If Westbrook is going to change minds, it will be here. It is not about him having anything to prove to himself or even his coach and teammates. They love him. It is about changing how the world sees him. It is about making the rest of the basketball world see him as he is one of the most talented players in the league on one of the most talented young teams and not what he was. True redemption is never easy, and San Antonio point guard Tony Parker is going to make Westbrook earn every bit. He may even be gigging him a little. "We're definitely going to go at him," Parker told reporters. "It's not going to be like Dallas or the Lakers. Their point guards are not as aggressive. It's going to be a little different. We're going to go at him." Parker has backed up his words this season, dropping 42 on the Thunder in February. And Parker is right, he is a handful. If Westbrook and Co. leap this hurdle, how we view him has to change. It should anyway. There is room in the league for the anti-Parker, for an emotional and temperamental PITA if he harnesses that energy and helps his team win. If so, it will be a story of redemption. Because, at some level, the NBA playoffs are always about the guy who forces us to rethink him.
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