The Oklahoma City Thunder are still reeling from Kevin Durant’s July 4 announcement that he would be joining with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent. The announcement meant that the Thunder would be without two of their top-three leading scorers from the 2015-16 season as the team traded Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic during the NBA Draft in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis.
With Ibaka and Durant leaving Oklahoma City, all the attention turned to Russell Westbrook and how it would affect his decision-making process for the future. Westbrook will be a free agent after next season ends, which puts general manager Sam Presti in a bit of a bind, especially since a report surfaced from David Aldridge of the NBA on TNT that Westbrook wouldn’t be signing any sort of extension this summer.
The report from Aldridge instantly sent trade rumors flying for Westbrook as it seemed that it would make more sense for Presti to get what he could for his star point guard this summer instead of risking it all and losing him for nothing next offseason. Just as recently as last week, the Inquisitr reported that a number of NBA general managers felt that Westbrook would be dealt prior to the season, and the Boston Celtics were the likely destination.
It seems as if those plans have been changed.
According to Yahoo! Sports‘ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder have a new plan centered around keeping Westbrook in Oklahoma City for this season and beyond. Wojnarowski reports that Presti rescinded the Thunder’s qualifying offer to restricted free agent Dion Waiters on Monday in order to keep enough cap space free to persuade Westbrook to renegotiate his contract, eliminating his 2017 free agency.
— The Vertical (@TheVertical) July 19, 2016
Under NBA rules, Westbrook could renegotiate his contract this summer with the Thunder for another up to three years onto his current deal. Yahoo! Sports’ Bobby Marks suggest that the most likely scenario for Russell to renegotiate would be to add one year to his deal which would increase his salary for the 2017-18 season from $17.7 million to $26.5 million.
Westbrook would then have to decide whether the extra $8.8 million would be enough to compensate for skipping free agency next summer. If Russell were to renegotiate, there would be enough salary cap room for the Thunder to go after Blake Griffin, who is one of their biggest targets in free agency for next offseason.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 19, 2016
Griffin is expected to opt-out from his contract following the 2016-17 season, which would make the Oklahoma native a free agent. If Presti’s master plan were to be enough to persuade Westbrook to stay in Oklahoma City, the Thunder could then feature Westbrook, Oladipo, Griffin, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams, which arguably could be an upgrade over Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka.
The Thunder would then be able to add in some more pick-n-pop into their offense with Griffin and Westbrook, and they would be able to eliminate some of the isolation play that has become synonymous with the Oklahoma City offense. In turn, it would make the Thunder offense more multi-dimensional and make the team even harder to guard.
There are still a number of things that have to fall exactly right for Presti and the Thunder, but this plan seems much more enticing to Oklahoma City fans than preemptively trading Russell this offseason. If things don’t work out, then at least fans know that Presti pushed all his chips to the middle of the table to keep one of the biggest NBA stars in Oklahoma City.
[Photo by Harry How/Getty Images]