As Kevin Durant changed the landscape of the NBA by announcing he was leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State, shockwaves were sent throughout the league. The smallest in the least was the aftershock that hit OKC – as if the announcement itself was not devastating to the franchise enough. No, the fallout from Durant’s move has already set in motion a chain of events that will circle back to his former team and their remaining superstar player.
The Golden State Warriors dumped salary, other free agents and teams who missed on Durant are scurrying to make deals, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have, yet, another franchise-impacting decision to make: what to do with Russell Westbrook. The All-Star point guard has established himself as one of the most energetic, vivacious players in the game today. He is fast and at times un-guardable. He can get to the bucket anytime he wants. He isn’t afraid to take any shot, at any time. And his contract with the Thunder runs out at this time next year.
So, you can see, this puts OKC in another tough spot. What do you do: let the 16-17 season ride, try and surround Westbrook with pieces to keep the team competitive in the West, and then negotiate a new long term deal next summer? Yeah? I’m not so sure the front office, who just walked that path with KD, are willing to put themselves, the team, and the city through that again. The ideal option for the Thunder would be to convince Russ that with Durant in Oakland this is now his team, without any questions; and that he should sign an extension this season. Again, that’s ideal for the Thunder – not the player. The NBA salary cap is set to skyrocket next Summer, and I can’t imagine Westbrook would not want to test that market and see what he can cash in at.
Told emphatically by league source there's no chance Russell Westbrook will do a renegotiation/extension of his contract (one yr remaining).
— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) July 4, 2016
Thus, we come to what stands to be the most logical option available at this juncture: trade Russell Westbrook. Yes, that’s right – lose your franchise player in free agency only to follow up that catastrophe with trading your other franchise star. (Hey, I didn’t say any of this was pretty for the Thunder.) The bottom line is OKC cannot have a repeat of what happened with Durant happen all over again next year and sit there left empty-handed as Westbrook walks.
However, finding a trading partner may not be as simple as one may think. Westbrook is an unrestricted free agent after the 16-17 season ends and will no doubt want to gauge his value by jumping into the frenzy. That holds true no matter what team he finishes out next season with. So with that said, what team is going to give up equal value to rent the all-star guard’s services for a season only to have him say goodbye when the summer hits? It’s not an easy question to answer, and it’s probably a little too early to project where he ends up and when; but who ever makes a play for Westbrook should be a team that is one step away from winning an NBA title – and if the addition of Russ means the team wins the championship, then it’s all worth it even if he leaves for more money afterwards.
Watching Durant decide where his future would start was fun and entertaining. But the Russell Westbrook sweepstakes could last longer and will, likely, be filled with a little more drama.
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