The jerseys have been burned, the dust has settled and Kevin Durant is now a Warrior – but enough about him. What’s going to become of the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the consistently best teams in the NBA over the past six seasons?
As much heartbreak as there is over losing one of the five best players in the NBA, the Thunder still have an outstanding team now led by the undeniable intensity of superstar point guard Russell Westbrook (for now, at least). With Serge Ibaka leaving the team as well, Westbrook is the only player keeping Oklahoma City from truly looking like a small market team. So, there appears to be only two viable option: trade Westbrook as soon as possible, or lock him down to a long-term extension.
The harsh reality is that the team may lose Westbrook after next season anyways, so the Thunder may as well trade him for as much as they can get before he’s given the opportunity to bolt from OKC next offseason. As Stephen A. Smith said on “Above the Rim,” “if you don’t get that commitment from him, you let him go.”
Stephen A. is right, there are a whole lot of teams that would jump at the chance to sign Westbrook in exchange for budding stars, some draft picks and probably some cash on top of all that. The Lakers, for example, have a ton of young, talented players that they will likely be willing to deal in order to start Luke Walton’s coaching tenure with a bang.
The other option is to pay Westbrook a ton of money to keep him in the Midwest. Last season Ibaka and Durant pocketed $32 million of the Thunder’s $94 million payroll, according to Basketball-Reference.com. With both players skipping town, that opens the door to upping Westbrook’s pay and extending him out to 2020 and beyond. He obviously won’t be cheap, considering he’s set to make $17 million in the upcoming season, and if the Thunder truly want to keep him, they’ll have to up that number substantially.
Thunder GM Sam Presti hasn’t yet announced what the organization plans to do about the Durant-sized whole in the locker room, but expect things to move quickly once he and the rest of the front office have weighed their (seemingly) limited options.
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Photo Credit: Tim Shelby/Flickr Creative Commons
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