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Russell Westbrook’s Thunder was a one-man band. Now he’s conducting an all-star ensemble.

Russell Westbrook now has plenty of help thanks to the arrival of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in offseason trades. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Last season, the Thunder resembled a traveling one-man show. Russell Westbrook’s solo act captivated the NBA world as he became the first player since 1962 to average a triple-double for a season. For his efforts, he won the league’s most valuable player award.

What Westbrook’s tear didn’t do was lead Oklahoma City back into contention in the wake of Kevin Durant’s departure the previous summer. Sure, the Thunder made the playoffs when many thought they wouldn’t, but they were dismissed in five games in the first round by the Houston Rockets. Westbrook’s individual greatness appeared to have taken the Thunder as far as the team could go without more help.

This summer, General Manager Sam Presti found some. In adding all-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City suddenly has the firepower to again be a real factor in the Western Conference. But those reinforcements arrive with obvious questions: How will three stars, all accustomed to leading their own teams, comfortably coexist? And can Westbrook give back some of the unprecedented freedom and control he exerted over the franchise last season?

“Russ is still special. Carmelo is still special. We’re all still special,” Paul George said this preseason. “That doesn’t change our abilities. It’s just, now we don’t have to have that burden of having to do it every possession, night in and night out, having that pressure of doing it alone. That’s the only thing that changes.

“We still want Russ to be in attack mode, we want Russ to be aggressive, we still want him to look for his. Now he just has help to help him get to his dribble pull-up, he has help to get to his mismatches.

“It just enhances what everyone does.”

That is certainly the idea. For all of Westbrook’s regular-season brilliance — specifically, his heroics in clutch situations — the Houston series starkly illustrated the limitations of what Oklahoma City was doing last season. Westbrook finished the series averaging a triple-double, but his shooting percentages (38.8 percent overall and 26.5 percent from three-point range) reinforced how predictable the Thunder’s attack had become.

Predictability should no longer be an issue for Oklahoma City. By adding two of the better scorers in the league in George and Anthony, the Thunder now has the ability to offer the kind of varied attack every coach desires. Those options beg questions of Coach Billy Donovan, about how he’ll handle the rotation and how he can find enough shots to keep all three stars happy.

Everyone around the Thunder is unanimous on one thing — the goal is to keep at least one of the team’s three stars on the court at all times. That allows each of them the chance to get the ball in isolation, something all of them have plenty of experience with. Doing so, however, will require at least one of Donovan’s stars to change his normal rotation, which the coach realizes requires delicate management to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“I want them to have some ownership of that, as well, [and make sure] that we work on this together,” Donovan said. “That’s part of the sacrifice part. But for Russell and Carmelo and Paul, I think they’re open-minded to what’s going to work best.”

Regardless of exactly how it’s executed, putting at least one of the three stars on the court at all times is the best move. While Oklahoma City’s starting lineup — the three stars, plus defensive stalwarts Andre Roberson and Steven Adams — can compete with anyone, its bench leaves much to be desired. Raymond Felton is a nice upgrade at backup point guard, but the questions begin there. The team’s top reserve big, Patrick Patterson, did not play this preseason with a knee injury. The rest of the second unit is filled with unproven question marks. Expect Oklahoma City to try to supplement the bench throughout the season.

In the meantime, the focus will be on the big names — specifically Westbrook, who made headlines during camp. First, it was his health, as he recovered from a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left knee. Then it was for agreeing to remain with the Thunder for the rest of his prime by signing his five-year max contract extension late last month — doing so on Durant’s birthday, of all days.

Russell Westbrook’s extension is cause for celebration in Oklahoma City

In typical Westbrook fashion, he has no interest in discussing anything about what’s happening with the Thunder, including his adjustment to playing alongside George and Anthony.

“We’re going to get it, man,” Westbrook said. “I think one thing for everybody to know, especially you guys, you guys keep asking about the chemistry every damn day. We’re going to get it together.

“It’s a season-long thing, and it’s not going to happen overnight, and we’re going to get it together. You can keep asking us every day, but it’s not going to change what’s going to happen. We’re going to get it together.”

While Westbrook may not have any interest in discussing the questions surrounding the Thunder, that doesn’t make them go away. But he did do himself and the team a huge favor by pulling one massive conversation topic off the table: his future in Oklahoma.

Entering camp, it was still an open question whether Westbrook would ink the extension, after letting it sit unsigned for three months. Now that he has, Oklahoma City doesn’t have to constantly hear about the possibility of Westbrook, George and Anthony all leaving as free agents in July.

With Westbrook locked up, people around the league think the likelihood of Anthony picking up his $27.9 million option for next season went from a near certainty to a lock, as it seems unlikely he’ll get the same kind of money on the open market as a 34-year-old free agent. To this point, Anthony is saying all the right things about his new home.

“I’m, like, born again a little bit,” Anthony said this month. “I feel like I’m in college again. It’s like a college campus, and just being around, and the city is kind of that college feel and the energy, the joy that I have back with the game of basketball, I can feel it.

“I can feel it when I wake up. I can feel it around the guys. I can feel it when I’m out and about. That energy is different. The energy never lies and the vibes never lies.”

With Westbrook and possibly Anthony in the fold for next season, the team hopes its chances of retaining George have increased, as well. Keeping all three would be a dream scenario for the Thunder, but it would also be excessively expensive. Oklahoma City is staring at a potential $140 million bill if all three players return — which would easily make next season’s Thunder the most expensive team in NBA history.

Even that kind of exorbitant price, though, should not be a roadblock. Sources have been adamant that the Thunder won’t hesitate to run things back next season, particularly when Anthony’s large expiring contract would allow the team’s finances to then return to something near regular order the following year. In an ironic twist, this was the salary spike the Thunder was expecting to deal with if Durant chose to re-sign in Oklahoma City; now that he’s gone, the plan remains the same, albeit a year later than anticipated.

Instead of orbiting around just Westbrook and Durant, the team now operates on an axis of Westbrook, George and Anthony, all of whom have motivation this season. For Westbrook, it’s to prove he can be more than just an individual highlight reel. For George and Anthony, it’s something else — to be back in the mix, after both spent the past three seasons mired in mediocrity or worse with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, respectively.

“All three of us [have something to play for],” George said. “All three of us are playing with chips on our shoulders, all for different reasons. [But] the main reason is we’re not champions. We’ve never been champions.

“So I’ve got a different chip on my shoulder than those guys do, but we’ve all got one, and I think that’s what will make this trio all the more special.”

That’s what the Thunder is betting on after bringing this cast together. A few months removed from Westbrook’s incomparable one-man show, this ensemble has a chance to make noise deep into the spring — potentially even challenging the Golden State Warriors, which seemed a distant dream after Durant’s defection.

It’s just a matter of making the pieces fit.

“I think if you talk to Paul and Carmelo, I think they’ll both tell you, ‘We need Russell to be Russell,’ ” Donovan said. “We need Paul to be Paul. We need Carmelo to be Carmelo, in the framework of what we are trying to do and how they can complement each other.

“I think these guys are old enough and smart enough to realize there are certain things we’re going to have to do to give ourselves the best opportunity to be the best version of ourselves.”

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