Kevin Durant waited three days to let the Oklahoma City Thunder know that he was not returning to the franchise that he helped build. As a result, Durant is destroying the entire franchise he built, and Russell Westbrook is following him out the door. While Durant claimed to have a lot of respect and love for the Thunder, he left them with no chance of replacing him, and he went to the team that eliminated the Thunder from the playoffs this year. It was harsh and could kill the Thunder in the long run.
The biggest casualty is Oklahoma City losing their other major star, Russell Westbrook. KOCO 5 News in Oklahoma City reported that NBA.com’s David Aldridge said there is no chance that Westbrook will sign an extension or rework his contract with the Thunder before the 2016-17 NBA season. He said that Russell could sign the deal before the 2017 season, but the Thunder are not dumb enough to allow that to happen.
Oklahoma City trusted that Durant would want to remain with the franchise that he helped build, and they allowed his contract to expire, expecting to have a good chance at re-signing their star. Not only did he not re-sign with the Thunder, but he waited until the major free agents were already signed to other teams so that Oklahoma City couldn’t replace him. Also, by trusting in Durant to come back, they get nothing in return for losing their franchise star.
If the Thunder allow Russell Westbrook to reach that point, they could lose both of their best players and get nothing in return, crippling the franchise. Oklahoma City was one win away from the NBA Finals this year but couldn’t close it out against the Golden State Warriors. That is what makes Durant leaving the Thunder so damaging. He couldn’t beat Golden State, so he chose to join them. Westbrook could be the new face of the franchise, but it’s not clear that is what Russell wants.
Oklahoma City Thunder fans are angry at Kevin Durant right now for leaving, and they should be based on the fact that he took just long enough to hurt his former team. They would feel the same if Russell Westbrook left. However, fans can’t pretend that Kevin owed the city anything and pretend that he should have remained loyal. The team just traded Serge Ibaka, someone who had grown up with the Thunder. They traded James Harden a few years back. There is little room for loyalty in the NBA on either side.
However, the problem is when they traded Ibaka and Harden. Those two players had one year remaining on their deals with Oklahoma City, and the Thunder knew they needed to trade them or they could lose them and get nothing in return. That is what happened with Kevin Durant, and the Thunder rarely ever lose anything in these situations. That is now the situation they are in with Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City might have felt that they could win a championship with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka this year, and the risk was worth it. After going up 3-1 over the Warriors in the playoffs, Durant and Westbrook couldn’t close things out. Durant only shot 38 percent from the field in those final three losses. Now, he will head to the Golden State Warriors, where he won’t be a franchise player anymore and will play on an all-star team, leaving Russell behind.
Russell Westbrook will be the next to go. There is no way that the Oklahoma City Thunder will lose Westbrook and get nothing in return. They can’t gamble on Russell remaining loyal because Russell is not Kevin Durant. The Thunder were understandably enraptured with Kevin as he has always professed his love for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook is a different beast and someone who might long to play on the West Coast or in New York under the big lights.
If Russell Westbrook won’t sign a new extension, Oklahoma City has to trade Westbrook and move on. The next step is to see what they can get for him because the last thing Oklahoma City can afford is a collapse like the Cleveland Cavaliers suffered when LeBron James left. They may lose Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but there is always a chance that they could lure Blake Griffin back home to Oklahoma next season.
[Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Images]