Two months ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were positioned to perhaps consider themselves the best team in the NBA. They had pushed the defending champion and all-time regular season winning percentage record-holding Golden State Warriors to brink of elimination in the Western Conference Finals, with a home game among three opportunities to close the deal. A single win in three chances, followed by a series win versus a Cleveland Cavaliers team against whom they were projected to be favored, and the Thunder would be NBA champions for just the second time in franchise history, and the first since 1979.
Things didn’t work out as planned.
The Warriors went on to eliminate the Thunder in seven games. A short time later, Kevin Durant went on to join the Warriors, leaving Russell Westbrook and the Thunder to pick up the pieces.
Westbrook is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. With the balance of power in the Western Conference dramatically shifted, if a return trip to the NBA Finals is a priority, he may not want to remain in Oklahoma City.
The concept has sparked a fire-storm of speculation about a potential trade, which would at least allow the Thunder to avoid losing two top five NBA players to free agency in the span of a single year without receiving back anything in return.
The ability of Westbrook to leave in free agency next summer, however, is just as problematic for a trade partner as it is for the Thunder. If Westbrook were to leave the following summer, the trade partner would not only lose him without receiving back anything in return but also sacrifice the assets it took to acquire him. To that end, if a trade partner is to risk the type of assets the Thunder will demand for him, it is likely to demand that Westbrook agree to an extension.
The Thunder, for their part, haven’t given up hope of retaining their star point guard either. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. They, too, are positioning to offer Westbrook an extension that would provide the certainty required to build the team’s future around him. And they could make it quite tempting. Read more…