The Oklahoma City Thunder, for now, believe they can hold on to Russell Westbrook, extend him, and in the meanwhile sign or trade for players who’ll help convince Westbrook to stick around a while longer on a retooled championship contender. Their main target could be Blake Griffin.
Griffin or not, the Thunder not giving Dion Waiters a long term deal and turning him into a free agent (was RFA) says a lot about their cap planning for next season. If Westbrook does indeed agree to their begging, they’ll need plenty of cap space to hold on to him. In the meantime, they’ve been rebuffing calls and offers from teams looking to add Westbrook right now. While he still hasn’t signed an extension, everyone in the NBA assumes the Thunder will trade him instead of hoping he sticks around in free agency next summer.
Is Griffin actually a possibility? He has two more years on his deal, but the 2017-2018 season can be voided through his Early Termination option. Griffin seems to be happy in Los Angeles with the Clippers, and has been the player who first helped them take the steps from obscurity towards becoming the best team in the city, while finally giving the most ridiculed franchise in the league a marketable player.
But the lure of Oklahoma City could be difficult. Griffin is from Oklahoma City, playing his college basketball in Norman for the Oklahoma Sooners. If he thinks coming back home isn’t a distraction, playing next to a younger Russell Westbrook could be better than playing next to an older Chris Paul, who might also be playing his last couple of seasons in Los Angeles with the Clippers, watching their window to make a deep playoff run with these two slowly close.
It all hinges on whether or not the Thunder are capable of keeping Westbrook beyond this season. Right now, he’s not leaning towards signing an extension, immediately beginning the speculation of when he’ll be traded. However, he doesn’t even have to sign a four year extension like Harden. He has the possibility of doing something shorter, which keeps him through the 2017-2018 season, and helps him land in free agency just as he hits the tier 3 max contract for someone with 10 years in the NBA. Of course, there might also be a strike by that point, and then who knows what’s going to happen with free agency.
The Thunder are going with Plan A at the moment: Trying to extend Westbrook, and in that timeframe try to add a piece that makes it worthwhile for Westbrook to stay. They’re fending off suitors asking for a trade, and actually operating with the mindset that the Kevin Durant departure isn’t the end of the world. That’s Plan A. Plan B? They don’t want to go down that road, but that’s still the likelier scenario they’ll end up with.