The season has ended for the Oklahoma City Thunder and two major issues now stare General Manager Sam Presti right into the face. First, can the franchise sign superstar Russell Westbrook to a five year extension for the tune of $220,000,000 to keep him in his current place on Reno Street through the end of the 2021-2122 season. Secondly, can the magic of Sam Presti surround Westbrook with players that can support him while he is on the court and keep the team from falling apart when he is not on the court. It is a huge task but one that many would think Presti can accomplish.
The issues have to be addressed immediately this summer as one cannot expect Westbrook to duplicate his play in 2016-2017, not for his want-to, but for his health and longevity in the Association. The “Great Russell” of our time in now at the start of his middle age years in his career and it is now at the time that minor and possibility major injuries will limit his time in games and on the court minutes. Westbrook’s play will continue to suffer in the playoffs if he has to put in games of 40 minutes and especially if those minutes off the court sink the team to the depths of drowning in their own lack of quality backups. Oklahoma City is a very good team with Russell Westbrook on the floor, yet absolutely the worst team in the playoffs with him sitting on the bench watchin. Argue that fact but the statistics show the truth.
As NBC’s Kurt Helin commented, “game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes.”
OKC was outscored 27-9 in those six minutes and seven seconds, enough to get the Thunder beat. Add to the fact that Westbrook was tired in the 4th quarter, this option of “all out Russell” will not win a first round series and in fact, could end the season early in 2017-2918 with a possible physical (and mental) breakdown of the statistically best player in the NBA.
Royce Young, ESPN’s team reporter has summed up the situation:
After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.
The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.
If Russell Westbrook does not sign the extension this summer, or at least confides to Sam Presti that he is all in for a new contract in OKC in the summer of 2018, the General Manager is put at a crossroads as the leader of the organization. His longevity as the head decision man in Oklahoma City would seem to be over. Trading Westbrook early will bring the heat on Presti and his chance to survive would seem to be minimal. But allowing Westbrook to walk next summer, just as Kevin Durant did last summer, would also be a dark day for Presti. The Thunder Nation would say Presti had three great players at one time and now the team will go into the dumpster, becoming just another losing team stuck in mediocrity.
I do believe that if Russell does give Presti the word he will sign next summer (2018), he will, as Westbrook’s word is good. Presti would not trade him on that word. One thing about the great Russell is that his word is as good as gold. (But why would he not commit this summer to guarantee his future as major injuries can ruin a career) It would not surprise me in the least that OKC will have Westbrook for the next five year run.
What Sam Presti does in revamping the team is just speculation. Nobody from the professional media to the general fan of the Thunder know what will happen. Presti won’t show his hand but it is certain that he understands that there has to be continued modification of a team that lacks many things to make it a title contender in the Westbrook era. And we do not know it continues to be the Westbrook era. That is Russell’s ace card over the organization.
The all-in contracts to Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter hurt the Thunder in options. Can Presti bring in better all-around players than the less versatile ones currently on the roster, namely Kanter, Adams, Andre Roberson, Alex Abrines, and Doug McDermott? Will Pretie re-sign Roberson (restricted free agent), Taj Gibson (free agent), and lesser players that are also free agents, such as Samaji Christon, Nick Collison, and Norris Cole? Don’t forget Josh Huestis and the players on the D League Blue. Let’s not forget Kyle Singler’s two more guaranteed years on an NBA payroll that Presti has to work with. Donontas Sabonis and Jermi Grant are two squad men that do seem to have versatility and are very young in the Association. They will get better one would suspect. In looking at the players in general, the youthful players will improve if kept, including those with issues on offense or defense. One must not forget the rotation players are the at the bottom of experience and youth. That is a good thing. But to win a championship, you cannot continue to be too young, every year.
As usual, the ball is in the hand of Russell Westbrook and Sam Presti. Will Russell pass the ball to Presti to build around his long term contract or will Russell default and give Presti the emphasis to trade him? That is Westbrook’s initial call.
The team in Oklahoma City can take different paths this summer that will effect the franchise as much as the departure of Kevin Durant last summer and the lack of inking James Harden five years ago. I am conflicted as much as many of you are with regard to what the future of the team is here in OKC. Until I can get a better hand on it, that is all for now sports fans.
Feature Photo: Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) have words that resulted in a double technical foul during the second half of Game 5 of a Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2017 NBA playoffs, Tuesday, April 24, 2017, at Toyota Center in Houston. (Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle)