From the moment they got knocked out of the playoffs, to the time the decision was made, the Oklahoma City Thunder were wrapped around their Kevin Durant enigma. Now, with his mind made up, it’s all about deciding what to do with Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook has one more year remaining on his deal, worth $17.8 million. He hits the 2017 free agency right on time, with the salary cap projected to rise from $94 million to $110 million. When it comes to making money, Westbrook is hitting the market at the ideal time, whether he re-signs with the Thunder or goes somewhere else. But the Thunder might not be patient or risk waiting until next summer, and then lose him for nothing like they did Durant. Remember, because of the contract that Durant signed with the Warriors (a 1+1 for $54.3 million), no sign & trade can be made. After nine seasons with the Thunder, he’s leaving for nothing.
The Thunder can offer an extension to Westbrook: More years, and eligible for $8 million more as part of the renegotiated contract. The Thunder might be guessing correctly that Durant leaving gives Westbrook even more motivation to stay. It’s no secret that he’s always wanted to be the undisputed #1 option on a team. He blazed when he had the chance to do it during the injury-ravaged season of 2014-2015. He averaged 28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game that year. He’ll have a better shot at winning the MVP, putting up bigger numbers, and leading/dominating his own team. Other teams might also be able to give him that option, but Westbrook might be connected to the Thunder in a way that makes him stay.
Of course, waiting one more year to hit free agency makes more sense financially, and it’s not going to be a surprise if Westbrook declines the extension offer. This puts the Thunder in a situation they don’t want to be in. The Portland Trail Blazers lost LaMarcus Aldridge that way, the Thunder lost Durant that way. The Blazers bounced back nicely from that situation. The Thunder, if Westbrook does decide he wants to wait a year, know it might be time to rebuild.
If Westbrook does decline the extension, the Thunder will try to trade him. It basically means, for anyone involved in the trade, taking on a one-year rental. A superstar kind of rental, maybe the best point guard in the NBA kind of rental, but still, someone who might end up playing for them just one year. The Thunder would also want to be compensated accordingly. Like three first round picks, and maybe another player and more. It’s not an easy deal to pull off. But even if they don’t trade him dollar for dollar, it’s better than seeing their second franchise player walk away in the summer for nothing. The Thunder won’t be running for a championship next season. It’s time to think about how to best position this team for future contentions, with Westbrook, or without him.