After Kevin Durant had left the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency to join the Golden State Warriors, the city and league went crazy. This madness, of course, was justified. Joining arguably the best team in the league for an easy ring or two isn’t a good way to keep fans, especially when you’re one of the best players in the league.
After Durant’s departure and the hype had settled down, Russell Westbrook became the talk of the town. What would he do now that the Thunder are no longer the powerhouse they have been? Trade rumors emerged. Westbrook would have been a free agent after this season, so the team might as well get something out of him rather than let him walk out the door.
That would have been the easy way out. But there’s no guarantee Westbrook would end up on a championship contender. In fact, the odds were someone like the Los Angeles Lakers would try to acquire him. That’s not what he wanted. Not after coming so close to winning it all so many times.
But he doesn’t have a chance to win in OKC either. Not without Durant. So why did he resign with the Thunder?
I have an interesting theory.
When Durant left, people burned his jersey and cursed his name. The city almost gave up on the team. They needed something (or someone) to believe in.
Russell, on the other hand, found himself in a dilemma. With one year left on his contract, he could ride out his time in OKC and be despised for leaving next offseason. If he gets traded, he’s dead to OKC, and if he leaves that team at the end of this season, they’ll hate him too for bouncing after the team gave up a good amount to acquire him.
Russell also knew that with Durant gone, he had the upper hand in contract negotiations with the Thunder. No doubt he could resign for max money.
So, Westbrook did something, that in my opinion, genius. He signed a three-year, $85 million contract extension with a player option for the 2018-2019 season. Then he held a flawless press conference.
“I am grateful to extend my contract with the Thunder and continue to play with the only organization that I have played for and have loved being a part of since I was drafted into the NBA,” said Westbrook, reminding the city and the world just how loyal he has been. “I’m really excited about moving forward with this group of guys and continuing to play in front of the best fans in the world.”
Did you catch the shade he was throwing at Durant? Don’t worry; there was plenty more if you missed it.
“I’m a straightforward type of guy,” said Westbrook. “I shoot you straight. No need to go back and forth and try to figure out any other options, create this hoopla, rumors, and all this stuff. This is where I want to be, and that’s what I made the decision based on.”
So who wins here?
Westbrook is now the savior and stark contrast to OKC’s anti-Christ (KD). He gets a lucrative contract and hefty raise for this season. His jersey and shoe sales will shoot through the roof as people look to replace their KD’s. While he won’t be winning a championship with OKC over the next few seasons unless a superstar decides to go down there, Westbrook has the option to leave in 2018 after “doing all he can.”
The Thunder get to not completely suck for the next few seasons. In reality, the extra wins just mean they won’t be picking early in the draft.
I’ll let you decide who’s coming out on top of this one.
Of course, I could be completely off-base. Wouldn’t be the first time. But we’ll have to wait until 2018 to see.