Storyline: Russell Westbrook Extension

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Katz: Russell Westbrook has had this extension offer on the table for about a month. You think he’s going to sign it? Kanter: He knows that there is not another place on Earth that people love him like OKC fans do. I see him like my brother, and he loves it here. I hope he’ll stay. He’s a huge part of our family. Katz: Is the extension a thing you guys talk about? Kanter: No. We don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it, yeah. Katz: Is that awkward? Is it an elephant in the room? Kanter: It is awkward. Of course it is awkward, but in the end, it’s a business. We don’t really talk about it, but we know how much we love each other.

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He’s gone to France and Mexico. He’s been to Disney. He’s done awards shows and red carpets and who knows what else, and even though he flew from his offseason home in Los Angeles to Oklahoma City late Wednesday night, he still hasn’t find time for stroke of a pen that will be worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. What’s the hold up, Russ? I don’t ask that to cause a panic — there’s still plenty of time for Westbrook to sign his Designated Veteran Player Exception — but rather to explore some possible answers.

The same goes for Westbrook. This guy, if you hadn’t noticed, dances to his own beat — and he doesn’t like anyone to know the rhythm. He likes to keep people guessing. What’s more, he loves having that control. This, my friends, is the ultimate power play. Every other player who became eligible on July 1 for the NBA’s new Designated Veteran Player Exception has already done so. Blake Griffin and Steph Curry did it on the first day. James Harden did it in the first week. John Wall fell in line in the third week. Westbrook is the only other guy who can do one of the megamax deals this summer. And even though the calendar has turned to August, he still hasn’t signed.

But then Tuesday, Westbrook shared a cryptic tweet that made you wonder if his focus was turning to the business of basketball. He rarely posts anything on social media that isn’t about his family, his friends or his interests, but this tweet was about the media’s use of “sources”. “Sources say … ” part of his tweet read. Who knows what exactly he was referring to, but when The Oklahoman reached out to him during his return to town Wednesday seeking clarity on his extension, he declined to say anything. Only a day after mocking unnamed sources, he opted to not go on the record to offer any information.

No other team could offer the same deal if Westbrook were to hit free agency. He could still receive a contract that starts at 35 percent of the cap if he chooses to become a free agent next summer but would receive only five percent raises per season and could sign for up to only four years. Yet, the reigning MVP has made the Thunder wait almost a month, already. And it could end up being longer — maybe forever, though the organization remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Westbrook signing for the long term before the start of the season.

Harden joined Golden State’s Stephen Curry this summer as the only $200 million dollar men in the NBA. Westbrook can be the next in the club and the new benchmark in sports if he and the Thunder agree to a five-year extension. In addition to Westbrook’s $28.5 million salary in 2017-18, he’d receive an estimated $207 million over the length of the extension (until the 2022-23 season), which would amount to more than $235 million – and an average salary of $39.2 million, which would be a U.S. professional sports record. Like Harden’s annual salary, Westbrook’s is subject to change based on future salary cap projections.

The expectation is that the Thunder will meet with Westbrook at the start of free agency and offer him that five-year extension. If he takes it, he’ll solidify himself as the face of the franchise, and the hub around which Presti will try to reconstruct a championship contender. But if Westbrook isn’t willing to commit, it would almost certainly set off a frenzied bidding war for Westbrook’s services — and, in doing so, give Presti the chance he didn’t have with Durant: to get something in return for a departing star.

Russell Westbrook said he hasn’t yet considered signing a long-term contract extension with Oklahoma City, but the Thunder star said he wants to be with the organization long-term. “I haven’t thought about anything,” Westbrook said Wednesday, the day after the Thunder’s season ended with a Game 5 loss in Houston. “Obviously, everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here. I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. I’m worried about making sure my wife was all right, so everything else really doesn’t matter at this point.” Westbrook and his wife, Nina, are expecting their first child soon.
4 months ago via ESPN

The National Basketball Association’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a special provision that grandfathers Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook into the windfall of super-max contract extensions available to several star players this summer, league sources told The Vertical. This summer, Westbrook could sign a five-year, $219 million contract extension that would begin in the 2018-19 season. He’ll make $28.5 million in 2017-18.

Not long after Durant’s decision Westbrook returned to Oklahoma City for his annual basketball camp, and general manager Sam Presti met him back at the dog-food gym. The Thunder were prepared to offer Westbrook a maximum contract extension, and if he turned it down, they’d have no choice but to consider those trade offers. “I don’t want you to do this because you feel you need to,” Presti said. “I want you to do it because you want to.” Westbrook could have told Presti that he’d talk about free agency next year, setting up the Summer of Russ, and all the ensuing attention. But Presti had a pretty good feeling that he wouldn’t. “One way or another he lets you know where you stand,” Adams says, “and he doesn’t do it with a whisper. He does it with a few more decibels than that.”

And yet as the rest of the NBA expected Westbrook to begin executing his exit strategy – perhaps to the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks – his own mind kept returning to Oklahoma City. Westbrook felt invested in the franchise, reveled in the role of a young core’s leader and became intrigued with the challenge of persuading a co-star to join him in free agency. “The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” one source close to Westbrook told The Vertical. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”

Durant was again asked about Westbrook’s decision to renegotiate a three-year contract worth $85 million that will keep his former running mate with the Thunder for at least one more year beyond next season. “I’m happy to see any player in this league do whatever they want to do,” Durant said. “As long as he wasn’t pressured to do anything and felt like he did everything he wanted to do. And that’s how I feel about every player in this league. It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City that love to watch him play and love to have him on their team. “I got nothing but positive energy and vibes for everybody. I don’t have no beef with anybody or wish no ill will on anybody. So if he did what he wanted to do, that’s better. That’s great for him.”

Westbrook has remained mum, but he and the Thunder have been in communication often since Durant’s departure. Plenty want to hear from Westbrook, but he isn’t going to play out his free agency in the public eye. There won’t be any “I’ll make that decision when the time comes” mediaspeak. It’s not hard to gauge him when it comes to public comments; he’s as transparent as they come. And with Durant now gone, Westbrook understands the gravity of his own choice — he leaves, and the organization burns to the ground in a summer. So he wants to give them clarity to either move on with or without him.

It would be crippling for the Thunder to lose two Hall of Fame level talents over two consecutive summers and receive nothing in return. So with that threat in mind, OKC is now open to trading Westbrook, a source told me late Sunday, but they’re still trying to get him to commit long-term. “OKC is still trying to get Russell Westbrook to sign a contract extension,” the source explained, “which he won’t do because extensions at this time aren’t in a player’s best interest anymore. He won’t do it.”

In Westbrook’s case, Oklahoma City can add an additional three years to his current contract but would need to use cap space now to change the salary parameters. Like the Rockets recently with James Harden, the benefit of choosing the renegotiation route not only rewards the player financially but also the team. Harden, who was set to become a free agent in 2018, is now signed to a max contract that reflects the new TV money but also makes a longer commitment to the Rockets.
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August 23, 2017 | 11:03 pm EDT Update
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