The king is dead, long live the king. Russell Westbrook is the new face of the franchise for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant? Probably the most disliked figure in the state of Oklahoma, at least when it comes to sports hate perspective.
Bouncing back from the wreckage left by Durant when he decided to leave the team and join the Golden State Warriors was always going to be about Westbrook deciding his next move. He took his time while the rumors flew around. Some suggested he’s going to ask for a trade, or simply wait for free agency, which means the Thunder will have to trade him or lose him for nothing. Others speculated that Westbrook will be motivated by Durant’s departure. He wants the Thunder to be his team. He wants to win in Oklahoma City, and no one else. You know the answer now.
The Thunder presented Westbrook on the day of his contract extension like a rock star, keeping him through the 2017-2018 season and possibly the 2018-2019 season, unless he opts out, which makes sense. Not necessarily because he wants to leave, but because it make sense financially. He’ll be a 10-year veteran in the 2018 offseason, and that means a lot more money coming his way by signing a new contract, especially if he re-signs with the Thunder 9something like five years, $204 million).
Westbrook said all the right things. About Durant leaving not stinging him or the team. Enes Kanter has been doing his best on Twitter to mock Durant for leaving. There are classrooms with a Kevin Durant wall, but not in a good way. Something about never quitting. Westbrook represents the exact opposite. Loyalty, along with fire burning inside to make the most of this situation. Something like a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of the destruction caused by the team’s best player leaving. Not just leaving, but to a team that just beat the Thunder in the playoffs. A team that came back from 1-3 down. Durant suddenly choked up. Westbrook went on his wild late-game rampages that don’t end well. But Westbrook is here to fix, and let the team build around him. Durant decided other things are important. Westbrook extending his contract is the things fans live for. More than championships, more than banners and trophies, a lot of fans want to see commitment from players; the same commitment fans have to their teams. It’s rare to find these days.
Basically, the Thunder bought themselves time. This season, they have the peace of mind of working without the fear of Westbrook leaving hanging over their heads. The season after that, despite Westbrook’s declaration of loyalty, it’s going to be the same story all over again: Starting a year knowing this may be the last season for Westbrook. In that timeframe, the Thunder need to do well on the court, and show their biggest star they’re making the kind of moves that put the team in a position to win a championship.
Kevin Durant once sounded loyal. His tweets against LeBron James (obviously didn’t mention him by name) seem even more ridiculous than his remarks since leaving the Thunder, considering he left, and the team he left to. Westbrook staying or not, this is a huge blow to the Thunder. The Westbrook extension complicates things with the deals they can hand out to Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo. But sometimes, basketball decisions are about more than numbers. The Thunder needed a win this summer, and turning away from Durant and putting the spotlight, in a good way, on Westbrook, was the best thing they could have asked for in the aftermath of the decision 2.0.