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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Russell Westbrook could help keep Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook gestures after

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook gestures after a basket in overtime against the Philadelphia 76ers in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 4, 2015. Oklahoma City won 123-118. Credit: AP

The way Russell Westbrook has erupted as not only an MVP candidate but perhaps the NBA's most explosive and difficult player to guard should make Kevin Durant think long and hard about leaving Oklahoma City in the summer of 2016.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Westbrook will re-up with the Thunder the following season. But when healthy, Durant and Westbrook are the best tandem in the NBA -- bar none.

Durant will have his pick of teams in 2016, with the Thunder, Knicks, Lakers, Nets and Wizards expected to pursue the hardest.

But with a healthy Carmelo Anthony, a top draft pick and whoever they sign this summer (maybe Greg Monroe among them), the Knicks might not be as attractive to Durant or as prudent as staying with Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The Thunder, if it stays together, could succeed the aging Spurs as the model and most consistent franchise.

The Lakers, Nets and Wizards could be in spots similar to the Knicks. Additionally, none can pay Durant as much as the Thunder can, and Oklahoma City has positioned itself to make other moves to improve its championship chances beyond this season. And you can't rule out the Thunder winning this season if the dynamic Westbrook continues to dominate games and Durant returns from his second foot procedure this season.

Westbrook, a fierce and ruthless competitor, has been on an incredible pace and is carrying the Thunder toward the playoffs. As good as the Warriors have been this season, it will be tough to dispatch the Thunder in a first-round series if Westbrook and Durant, the reigning MVP, are playing.

Westbrook, the All-Star Game MVP, has averaged 34.9 points, 10.8 assists and 10.3 rebounds since the All-Star break. He entered the weekend leading the league in scoring, was fifth in assists and had eight games of at least 30 points and 10 assists.

He can be maddening with his shot selection -- and his volume of shots -- and needs to be reined in at times. But most teams wish they had a player like Westbrook. Durant should think long and hard about whether it would be wise to leave him.

Donnie backs Amar'e signing

Although the Knicks struck out on their main free-agent target (LeBron James) in 2010, former team president and current Pacers consultant Donnie Walsh still considers Amar'e Stoudemire a good signing. (The $100-million contract notwithstanding.)

"He came out the first day and said he wanted to be in New York -- and he was a big-time player -- and I thought 'that's what I want to hear,' " Donnie Walsh said. " 'I'd love to have a guy that wants to be in New York.' It worked out for us [until] the health [issues] later on."

Walsh also believes it was good that the Knicks bought out Stoudemire so he could play with a contender.

"I thought when he came in and played this year, he had some really good games," Walsh said. "So he's still got some talent that he can help a team, so I hope it happens with Dallas. I'm a good friend of Rick Carlisle. I hope it works out."

That's Amar'e

Amar'e Stoudemire hasn't found a spa in Dallas where he can get a red wine bath, but he did get showered by beer after going into the stands trying to save a loose ball last week.

The Knicks bought out Stoudemire last month and waived him so he could join a playoff team, and he's still adjusting to playing with the Mavericks.

"I've always had a training camp and always had some time to figure out the system before the season started," Stoudemire said. "This is my first time really going to a new system midseason. It's taking time. I still haven't found a place to live yet, still living out of a suitcase, but it's working out for me."

The Mavericks are being cautious with Stoudemire. He's appeared in six games since signing with them Feb. 18 and is averaging 11.2 points in 17 minutes.

As for the wine baths Stoudemire would take for recovery, coach Rick Carlisle offered a solution. "If it works," Carlisle said, "Mark [Cuban] should get one here."

Free but not easy

You probably can cross Wesley Matthews off the Knicks' free-agent list this summer. The sharpshooter ruptured an Achilles on Thursday against Dallas, and his timetable to return reportedly is at least six months. The Knicks already will have Anthony returning from knee surgery and need healthy bodies.

Matthews, if healthy, might have been difficult to pry away from Portland -- although the Trail Blazers got themselves insurance when they traded for Arron Afflalo. That could be a running theme this summer with Marc Gasol expected to re-sign with Memphis and LaMarcus Aldridge with the Blazers.

Goran Dragic, who was dealt from Phoenix to Miami, said he will opt out of his contract but hopes to re-sign. "This first 10, 15 days here has been a great feeling for me," Dragic said. "Unbelievable."

Rajon Rondo probably could be had, though. He's clashed with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, and speculation is he won't return.

Count Pop out

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wants no part of a longer NBA season, as has been suggested by commissioner Adam Silver to reduce back-to-back games and four-games-in-five nights situations. Popovich usually rests his veteran guys in those situations.

"I think the season is long enough," Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News. "I will not come to work in July. If there's a game in July, count me out."

What if it's the NBA Finals?

"Count me out," he said. "Count me out. Life is too short."


- Ex-Net Kevin Garnett didn't expect the Nuggets to play with the energy they did in beating Minnesota on Wednesday, "To be honest," he said, "they quit on Brian Shaw. I thought they'd quit again. A quitter is a quitter."

- The Hawks unveiled a statue of Dominique Wilkins on Thursday. In a video tribute, Larry Bird said, "Congratulations on getting a statue. I'm pretty sure it wasn't made with you in a defensive stance."

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