After a month of trade speculation, Russell Westbrook shut down that talk earlier today when he signed a brand-new contract extension with the Thunder. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Oklahoma City brass had been prepared to explore the trade market for a package of young players and draft picks if Westbrook had given the team the impression that he was “unenthusiastic” about the future in OKC. However, in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s departure, Westbrook re-committed to the Thunder, forgoing free agency in 2017.
“The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” a source close to Westbrook told Wojnarowski. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”
While Thunder fans – along with GM Sam Presti – can breathe a sigh of relief for now, Westbrook’s “three-year” extension essentially only guarantees him one extra season in Oklahoma City. The first year of the deal is 2016/17, for which he was already under contract, and the third year (2018/19) is a player option, meaning Westbrook could opt out in 2018, when he becomes eligible for a higher maximum salary.
It’s entirely possible that Westbrook intends to re-sign with the Thunder again at that point, but the team certainly can’t take that for granted, and will have to work hard to fortify the roster around Westbrook over the next year or two. Within his column (linked above), Wojnarowski reiterates something he reported in July, writing that OKC has its eye on Blake Griffin, who played his college ball in Oklahoma and can become a free agent in 2017.
With Westbrook locked up, the Thunder would have to make a trade or two – or part ways with one or two of its RFAs-to-be – in order to create room for Griffin, but the cap work certainly wouldn’t be a major roadblock for the team — the bigger challenge would be convincing Griffin to leave Los Angeles to return to Oklahoma City.
Of course, even if signing Griffin isn’t in the cards, there are a number of other avenues – in free agency or on the trade market – that Presti and the front office could explore to upgrade the roster before Westbrook reaches the open market in 2018.
Today’s discussion questions revolve around the future for the Thunder and for Westbrook: Do you expect Westbrook to stay in Oklahoma City beyond 2018? Is this just a temporary reprieve for the Thunder, or is it a sign that Westbrook is committed to the franchise for the long run? What moves do you expect the Thunder to pull off in the next year or two to get back into title contention?
Take to the comments section below to share your opinions on the future for the Thunder and for Westbrook. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.