Russell Westbrook is one of the top five players in the NBA and will be a hot commodity when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2017. Westbrook’s pending free agency also puts the Oklahoma City Thunder in a tough spot, as it’s unclear whether the five-time All-Star would be interested in signing a long-term extension with the team next offseason.
One thing that Russell and his agent made clear recently is that he will not sign a contract extension this offseason. The NBA salary cap will rise once again next summer, and Westbrook is looking to maximize the amount of money he can make by signing a max deal. If Russell were to sign a deal now, he would forfeit a considerable amount of cash.
Told emphatically by league source there’s no chance Russell Westbrook will do a renegotiation/extension of his contract (one yr remaining).
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 4, 2016
ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst reported about a week ago that if there’s no possibility of signing Westbrook to an extension this summer, then the Thunder may be forced into looking to trade him. While Russell could always decide to re-sign with the Thunder next offseason, the team is taking a big risk by holding onto him and then not getting anything in return if Westbrook were to choose another team.
It’s a tough situation for general manager Sam Presti with Russell, but it’s not the first time he’s been put in this spot. Back in 2012, Presti traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets after not being able to work out a long-term deal. In return, the Thunder got Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first-round picks.
At the time, Harden was coming off of a season in which he won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. He hadn’t quite turned into the star that he is today so the package the Thunder got in return was pretty fair. In the case of Russell Westbrook, any deal the Thunder consider must include NBA starters and multiple draft picks because Westbrook is already one of the top players in the league.
There are a number of teams who will likely be blowing up Presti’s phone to find out what it would take to pry Russell away from the Thunder. The Boston Celtics are in prime position to work out a deal, as they could send Jaylen Brown, multiple first-round draft picks, and another piece or two to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell. The only question would be how Westbrook and Isaiah Thomas would fit together on the court.
Another possibility would be the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are already planning a run at Westbrook next summer, and it would be a natural fit as Russell played at UCLA and is from Long Beach. He could head home and play for the most storied franchise in NBA history. The Lakers also have the pieces to make a deal happen with D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
“I think Oklahoma City is going to have to trade Russell Westbrook.”
– Chris Broussard pic.twitter.com/eHQ2vdrWe2
— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) July 5, 2016
While the Lakers would seem to be a legit contender in the Westbrook sweepstakes, ESPN‘s Chris Broussard is reporting that the team may not make a deal because they believe that they already have a solid shot at Russell in free agency and would rather not give up anything in a trade.
“The Lakers think they can sign (Westbrook),” Broussard said. “I was talking to some people, some executives yesterday about possible trades they might do, or offer, and I was told they think they can sign him as a free agent. So, why should they give up anything?”
Zach Lowe from ESPN has another team that would be considered a dark horse to make a deal for Westbrook.
“Presti doesn’t want to trade Westbrook, but if he feels backed into a corner, he will chase young players and draft picks. The Phoenix Suns reportedly talked with the Atlanta Hawks about Paul Millsap, and they come armed with prospects galore, extra point guards and two future Miami picks,” Lowe wrote.
— SI NBA (@si_nba) July 7, 2016
The Suns have Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight who can both play point guard and have expressed an interest in trading one of them. The team could easily build a package centered around one of those guys and build an enticing offer for Presti to consider. In order for any deal to commence, the Suns would likely require a commitment from Westbrook and his team to re-sign with the team next offseason, and that could be an issue.
It’ll be interesting to see how Presti and the Thunder handle the Westbrook conundrum. There are three possible outcomes: trade Russell, hold onto him and hope he re-signs next offseason, or hold onto him and watch him walk away next summer and get nothing in return. Any way you slice it, Russell Westbrook is the key to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s future.
[Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]