It’s ticktock to October for Oklahoma City Thunder fans as they wait to see if their favorite player, and league MVP, will sign the supermax contract that has been offered to him, by the October 16th deadline.
It’s ticktock because the offer has been on the table for two months, and the designated player extension supermax contract is for $207 million — exceeding two-time NBA champion/mega record breaker, Stephen Curry’s, paltry $201 million.
Westbrook — in the wake of Kevin Durant’s OKC exit to sign with the Warriors (culminating in a championship in Durant’s first season with Golden State and the NBA Finals MVP award) — has made loyalty his trademark.
ESPN’s Royce Young puts it this way:
Westbrook built a brand on being the guy who stayed, and produced a season of vengeful validation that set history and won him the MVP award. He went from a polarizing star who carried around a crowd of critics, to one of the league's most revered and popular players. The expectation since free agency opened was Westbrook would ink the extension, and it remains as such. Yet with almost a month and a half to go before the deadline, Westbrook hasn't committed.
A guy procrastinating on signing a $207-million contract is a guy considering the ticking of the hands of time, pondering scenarios in which he might win a championship and build an undeniable NBA legacy.
Curry signed his $201-million supermax deal immediately because he knew he wanted to stay with Golden State, in the positive Warriors’ environment, and continue to pile success on top of success.
That Westbrook hasn’t signed is telling.
Aside from his excessive dribbling late in the clock rather than passing to an open teammate, Westbrook is a smart man. Many may find his outfits to be appalling, but Westbrook has parlayed his love of threads into a fashion line that sells out of Barney’s.
Therefore, it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t know trolling Durant all season, while working his way into the annals of NBA history, would rally the OKC fan base. Westbrook had to know that hyping loyalty would do the same, with a stamp of approval from the media and critics being a rewarding byproduct.
Poor Russell Westbrook has to shoulder the burden and go it alone — or, so, the narrative goes.
Snark aside, Westbrook did exactly what he should have done. He played the situation beautifully for his team. The problem, however, is that he threw Durant under the bus in the process. He silenced his critics at Durant’s expense, and Durant took a beating all season from OKC fans and the media for daring to make a career change.
Fans and media accused Durant of looking for an easier path to a championship, which only inspired him to play hard every night and prove he was arguably the best Warrior in the 2016-17 season — earning his championship ring rather than riding coattails to get it.
Karma isn’t through with Westbrook yet.
If Westbrook is considering bailing on the Thunder after all the trolling — the cupcakes, the photographer t-shirt, the snide remarks to reporters — he will be in for a doozy of an awakening. He will have to face the judgments he made about his former teammate and the criticism of Durant he fostered in OKC fans. He should prepare himself for a media field day of condemnation, with words like hypocrite, faker, liar being tossed around freely, because what goes around comes around.
Westbrook may want to sit out any games at Chesapeake Energy Arena. When Durant left,the Thunder still had an All-Star player in Westbrook. If Westbrook signs elsewhere, leaving the team to start over in rebuilding mode, it’s going to be an ugly scene.
By hanging his hat on loyalty, Westbrook has backed himself into a corner. He’s agile, so surely he can get out of it. But any choice he makes will be met with significant downsides. If he changes teams, he will never be able to live it down on the court, in OKC, with media or anywhere else — not after his Oscar-worthy loyalty act. But if he stays with the Thunder, he will never win a championship.
$207-million deal with the devil?
Thunder owner Clay Bennett has demonstrated a lack of commitment to making the Thunder a championship-contending team — failing, season after season, to bring in talent to surround star players. This is why Durant left and it is, perhaps, why Westbrook is thinking of leaving.
So, if Bennett isn’t keen to bolster the roster, Westbrook essentially would be taking the money as a concession. He would be agreeing to play for a team for fun, to entertain fans and keep the seats filled, but without hope of winning a championship. However, if Westbrook’s confetti envy of his former teammate is strong enough, perhaps he will take a page out of Durant’s playbook and leave some money on the table with which GM Sam Presti could sign solid, veteran players.
We probably shouldn’t hold our breath on that one.
But if Westbrook does commit to five more years with the Thunder — putting him at age 33 or 34 by contract’s end — he certainly deserves the $207 million, if not more, because he’d be forsaking championship dreams in exchange for money. He’d also be agreeing to carry the scoring load night in and night out.
Curry, by contrast, doesn’t have these issues. He gets to enjoy the spoils of a $201-million salary while knowing championships are within reach because the team has won two already, and the owners ponied up cash in the offseason to bring back key players to ensure future winning.
Curry also shares the scoring load with the likes of Durant and Klay Thompson and any other guy who happens to be “on” in a given night; he has the benefit of sitting during fourth quarters in multiple games during any given season.
Westbrook enjoys no such benefits and, by signing the contract, would be stating he’s okay with that — which, he probably is, from an ego standpoint, although it might not be in the best interest of his body or career long-term.
How will Russell Westbrook’s contract situation be resolved?
This poll is closed
He’ll take the $207 million and laugh all the way to the bank.
He will not sign the designated player extension and seek to take his talents elsewhere, in hopes of winning a championship.
He’ll stay in OKC, but leave some money on the table so that owners can bring in veteran talent to make the Thunder a championship-contending team.