Russell Westbrook has agreed to an extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s a good thing, especially in light of Kevin Durant’s bolt to the Bay Area. Can’t spin it any other way.
But be mindful of how the extension is presented and how you interpret it.
It is already being hailed by some fans as a show of loyalty by Westbrook; a show of devotion that Durant couldn’t muster. There could be some truth to that. Heck, it could be ALL of the truth for all we know. Here’s the boring, un-fun way to look at it: this is a good business decision by both parties.
The Thunder were in position to renegotiate Westbrook’s 2016-17 salary and also add up to three more additional years to his contract. In the end, the two sides agreed to bump his salary for this coming season and tack on an additional year. A player option for an additional season was added as well, the kind of perk that the Thunder front office has never willingly given out (Enes Kanter’s contract contains a player option for 2018-19, but that was negotiated in his offer sheet with Portland that Oklahoma City matched).
From Westbrook’s standpoint, he gets something of an early Christmas bonus. He collects $8.7 additional million in next season’s salary and bypasses free agency in 2017. But he also can become a free agent in 2018 when he will have 10 years of service in the league. That’s the peak of Mount Everest for NBA players. Under current rules, Westbrook would be eligible to sign a new deal starting at roughly 35% of the salary cap. With a new Collative Bargaining Agreement in the works that would take effect in the 2017-18 season, it’s possible the rules could change even more in his favor.
Had Westbrook locked in for the full three additional seasons, he would have left at least an estimated $10 million on the table in those last two seasons. It’s understandable why Westbrook would choose not to do that despite the security it would have brought. The potential benefits outweigh the risks.
From the Thunder’s standpoint, the benefits go beyond the obvious matter of locking in a superstar player for any additional amount of time. The team gets to avoid back-to-back seasons of its star player fielding free agency questions. It gets some stability after having its boat rocked hard after Durant’s defection. It can finally move forward in one direction rather than having to plan for life with and without Westbrook. And oh yeah, it gets more Westbrook.
It also gains another side benefit in this deal: Westbrook’s trade value just took a positive spike. To be clear, such a scenario is one that gets serious consideration only if the team’s internal Doomsday Clock gets moved to a minute before midnight. But it’s impossible to ignore that, should next season head south for any reason, Westbrook becomes much more attractive to other teams with this new extension than he did under his old deal. With only a year left on his contract, Westbrook held some degree of control over his future. A mere “I’m not re-signing with you” from Westbrook would have deflated offers. Now teams will be more giving if it means getting a superstar with more than a year left on his deal.
Whether Westbrook is in Oklahoma City for six more months or six more years, Thunder fans have reason to be excited. Just remember the lessons learned from Durant’s departure. Don’t put away those cynical goggles you just acquired. Be skeptical of what’s presented to the public. What can be presented as a show of loyalty could just be a good business deal too good for all parties to pass up.