Storyline: Russell Westbrook Extension

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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.
2 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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June 24, 2017 | 8:45 am EDT Update
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3 hours ago via ESPN
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