When the NBA season officially ended after the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first championship in franchise history, the attention was turned to free agency. The biggest prize in this year’s free agent class was Kevin Durant. He decided to go join the Golden State Warriors, the team that had just erased a 3-1 series deficit against Durant’s Thunder to advance to the NBA Finals.
With the shocking turn of events, Thunder fans feared for the absolute worst after that; Russell Westbrook would follow suit and bolt to greener pastures when he hit the free agent market after this upcoming season.
Wednesday evening, a huge sigh of relief was let out when it was announced (first by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne) that Westbrook had signed an extension to stay with the Thunder through the 2017-18 season with a player option for the following year. Overall, the deal is worth $87.5 million.
In professional wrestling, when a tag team splits, one usually turns heel (a bad guy) leaving the other to be a baby face (a good guy). With Durant’s departure for the Bay Area, he was the one to turn heel and give the NBA a new villain, while Westbrook is now even more of a fan favorite.
It is now time for Russell Westbrook to be the face of a franchise and not just a sidekick to Durant. Westbrook already plays a high-octane style of offense with a ton of aggression and athleticism. If anything, this extension will kick that style of play up a notch or two.
Before Westbrook gets the fan appraisal that many will shower him with for sticking with Oklahoma City, let’s not forget that many around the league have called him selfish and someone who hogs the ball and spotlight. That will soon become a thing of the past once the new NBA season gets underway. No longer will the narrative be which star gets to take the last shot for the Thunder, as Westbrook will handle those duties.
On Thursday afternoon, Westbrook took part in a press conference to announce the new extension. He said “There is nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City. You guys have basically raised me.” That speaks volumes as many thought he would bolt for Los Angeles, where he is from and played his college ball, but for at least the next two seasons, that will not be the case.
“If you know where you want to be, there’s no need to waste time,” Westbrook said of his extension.
When asked how he found out about Durant leaving to team up with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, he responded by saying “Like y’all found out. On the news and on the social media.”
Westbrook went on to say that he is not throwing his friendship with Durant away. “We played together for eight years. You just don’t throw that away.”
Loyalty is something that is slowly becoming a thing of the past throughout the sports world, but not with Westbrook. “Loyalty is something I stand by,” Westbrook said. Was that a subtle jab at Mr. Durant? Perhaps. What it actually is, is the fact Westbrook decided to sign an extension and stay with the Thunder in hopes to bring the city of Oklahoma City a championship.
The production from Westbrook has never been a question and that is sure to go up now that he is the main attraction for the Thunder. For his career, he has averaged 21.5 points per game, 7.6 assists per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. Since coming into the league in 2008, Westbrook leads all players with 37 triple-doubles in that time frame, including 18 this past season. Could this be the first season since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 that a player averages a triple-double? It’s no easy task, but with the added motivation for Westbrook, he is a player of making that extremely rare feat happen.
This isn’t a long-term solution for the Thunder, but it is a step in the right direction. The team, as assembled now, is good enough to make the playoffs. The question now is what other talent can be paired with Westbrook to keep the Thunder an elite Western Conference team. The Thunder can pursue this either via free agency or trade options.
Two years from now, the Thunder fan base will have to go through this process of a superstar player potentially bolting, but if loyalty is really something Westbrook stands by, then they won’t have much to worry about, especially if the Thunder can add a few pieces to compliment the talented point guard.
Wednesday evening was a good night to be a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder. One superstar departed while another stayed loyal.
Wouldn’t it be something if Westbrook and the Thunder knocked off Durant and the Warriors in the playoffs? Time will tell if that can be a thing of reality, but for now, it’s Russell Westbrook’s time to shine and show he’s the man in Oklahoma City.