The fallout from the departure of Kevin Durant leads to the major decision the Oklahoma City Thunder have to make: Russell Westbrook. Trade? Re-sign (and that’s not up to them)? Keep and risk losing him for nothing?
Every day (last two days), comes a different source, saying something else. One implied that Westbrook is even more motivated now to succeed with the Thunder after Durant left. Another one suggests that Westbrook is 100% gone. It’s all about Sam Presti now, and what his discussions with Westbrook will lead to. Maybe he doesn’t even have to talk about it. Presti allegedly knew Durant was leaving the Thunder when he saw him in the Hamptons for their second free agency meeting.
And now, Westbrook. Trade offers probably haven’t been coming in, but just like teams are still calling LeBron James’ agent just to get an understanding of where things are (he’s not leaving the Cavaliers), but maybe Presti has been getting calls and texts asking him to think of me (whoever the GM is) first when he puts Westbrook on the trading block. And when that happens, the Thunder go into full rebuild mode, unless the deal they manage to complete makes them competitive, or at least not in tank mode, right away.
Two teams that everyone keeps mentioning are the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The Lakers have young players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle they can move. Clarkson signed a pretty big extension, so he might not be included, but the Lakers have young players with upside on rookie deals that could be very interesting to the Thunder, and Westbrook grew up in Los Angeles, even playing college basketball there (UCLA). The allure might be quite tempting.
The Celtics have assets: Players and a ton of draft picks, which could be very tempting. While the Celtics don’t have the most exciting of young players, they won’t think twice about moving their best players for Westbrook, if they know they can re-sign him, with the same said about the Lakers. Westbrook is one of the five best players in the NBA, probably, and when that kind of player gets offered up on trade during his prime, you have to make the deal. Maybe the Thunder look at the Nuggets and how well they did (for a short while at least) after they traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks.
One team that could be interesting are the Minnesota Timberwolves. They can give the Thunder Ricky Rubio and someone who isn’t Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins, along with some draft picks. It might put Westbrook in a win now situation with a young and talented team, and Rubio’s contract is kind of cheap considering the new salary cap and what he can give them. It’s simply hard to tell, at the moment, what’s going on behind the veil in Oklahoma City, and what the thought process is.
In the end, it’s probably more of a Westbrook decision than a Sam Presti decision. Presti won’t play Westbrook for an entire season and then see him walk away. Maybe the Thunder do what the Celtics did with Rondo in 2014-2015: Start out the season with him and then trade him to someone. But in Rondo’s case, it was the unclarity regarding his comeback from injury, otherwise he would have been traded earlier. One big decision leads to another. Either way, the Thunder are kinda screwed.