THERE'S AN OLD joke involving Michael Jordan, one that dates to his days at North Carolina. Who's the only man who could hold MJ under 20 points, the line went. The answer? Dean Smith -- a snarky take on the coach's egalitarian system.
Lately, an updated version of that crack has been making the rounds, starring Kevin Durant as MJ. Only this time, the role of Smith belongs to Durant's OKC sidekick, Russell Westbrook, whose affinity for his own shot often seems to be the only thing keeping Durant from breaking 30 every night. And during Durant's streak of 12 consecutive 30-point games in January, that dynamic no longer seemed to be a laughing matter. As an injured Westbrook watched from afar, fans and experts alike wondered aloud whether the All-Star point guard was indeed holding back his teammate and -- as the Thunder notched win after win -- his team too.
The idea that one of the league's 10 best players could actually be a hindrance seems laughable. Still, as one Eastern Conference GM told us: "You would always choose more talent over a lack of talent. But the better question on Russell is fit." The joke, in other words, demands serious consideration. So consider it we will.