The Thunder were the biggest victims of this summer’s NBA free agency period, losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, same team that ended their season in the Western Conference Finals. Losing a franchise player could be very detrimental to a franchise, ask the Cavs after LeBron left in 2010.
Luckily for OKC they have another franchise player; a loyal one.
Russell Westbrook signed a three-year extension with the Thunder that is reported to be worth over $85 million. Russell will have a player option after the 2017-18 season, which will allow him to be a free agent.
For now, this saves the Thunder franchise and gives them some time to prepare for another potential crazy summer but much of the attention is on Westbrook and his decision to stay with OKC. Prior to this extension, most thought it would be best for Westbrook to move on and ask for a trade to a contender. For Westbrook leaving OKC would have been like leaving home.
That last sentence is something that is lost within professional sports; loyalty. In a summer that included a player switching sides and a franchise that did not pay the best player in team history, seeing a player showcase some loyalty is refreshing, especially in this situation. No one would have blamed Westbrook for leaving after KD left him high-&-dry.
For Westbrook, it was all about being loyal to a city and franchise that raised him.
Westbrook noted during the press conference that he found out about KD’s decision the same way everyone else did, through social media. The decision didn’t hurt Westbrook though, when asked if KD going to the Warriors sting, he replied “sting for who?”.
Now what is the outlook for the Thunder’s future?
With the current roster, the Thunder are only a piece away from being a solid playoff team. With the emergence of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, the Thunder have a very good frontcourt and Oladipo paired with Russ in the backcourt is a two-way nightmare for a lot of teams. Still they don’t have depth or another max player to make them a championship caliber squad.
KD going to the Warriors makes it difficult for any team in the western conference to challenge them for a spot in the NBA Finals. To really challenge the Warriors, the Thunder will have to wait until next summer free agency period in hopes of grabbing a max player to replace KD’s production. Adams and Oladipo will be free agents next summer, joining the likes of KD, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
As for Westbrook, this is an opportunity for him to prove that he is a better top dawg than KD. Without KD in the lineup according to ESPN, Westbrook averages 28 points, 8 dimes, and 7 boards - the same numbers that help LeBron James get four MVP awards. We seen how productive Westbrook can be without KD on the court when he averaged 31.5 points, 9.5 boards, and 8.5 dimes in the final three months of the 2015 season. KD only played 27 games that season and the Thunder missed the postseason despite winning 45 games.
During that three month span, the Thunder were 21-13, which is why many thought that Westbrook can not lead a team on his own. This seems to be a different Westbrook though. A Westbrook that is much more mature and has clarity on his career. Not many players would be willing to stay in a situation that Westbrook is in - losing you’re running mate of the last 9 years to the team that just ended your playoff run. Most would have left and tried to jump on the wagon of another championship contender. But not Westbrook, for him this is the perfect situation for his legacy.