Without a trade or an extension, the future of Russell Westbrook is going to be hanging over the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, as the decision, mostly in his hands, is hanging heavily over the head of the team.
Right now, different sources are reporting different things. One direction is that Westbrook won’t sign an extension, which should lead to the decision of trading him, because waiting out a year just so the Thunder can maybe make the playoffs and lose in the first or second round isn’t worth losing him for nothing, and that the other direction points towards Westbrook being more motivated than ever to succeed with the Thunder now that Durant is out of the way.
Facts? Westbrook hasn’t signed an extension, and as far as we’re being told, hasn’t demanded a trade. The rest? Speculation, and an attempt at logical thinking. If Westbrook doesn’t sign an extension, in the realms of what James Harden did with the Houston Rockets ($118.1 million, four years), I don’t see how the Thunder can move forward without starting to make calls and receive them regarding a trade. These thing always end in the same way: A team heads into a season with their superstar about to hit free agency, hoping they do well enough to convince him to stay. He leaves. The end. They just went through it with Durant, only they have Westbrook to fall back on.
Maybe Westbrook is as competitive as they say. He feels betrayed, maybe even disgusted by Durant, and sees himself playing for the Thunder, and no one else. Maybe being the number one guy on the team serves as more motivation than ever before to go on the kind of tear we saw him on in the 2014-2015 NBA season, single handedly carrying the Thunder (dropping like flies with injuries), falling short in the final game, and causing a lot of self destruction in the meantime too. It might not end with success for the Thunder, but it should be incredible to watch.
But without an extension, the Thunder risk losing him for nothing. Yes, maybe Westbrook simply wants to re-sign with the higher cap, which makes sense. Next season the 1+1 option that was so lucrative this year isn’t going to be as attractive, which means that staying with the Thunder makes more sense financially. But with so many maybes, doubts and questions about the future, the Thunder can’t be expected to simply let is slide, worry about the now and see if Westbrook decides something that works for them.
It’s a rotten situation to be in, but in the NBA, it’s part of life. The window to win a championship with Durant was open for six seasons, and for various reasons, some out of everyone’s control, it didn’t happen. Now begins the Westbrook era, which is probably going to be very short, but for now, the Thunder are hanging on to the hope that from the ashes of Durant’s departure, rises something brighter and better, with Westbrook in the driver’s seat, this time without anyone getting in his way.