It has been nearly two months since Russell Westbrook could agree to the fancy new designated veteran player extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder that would make him the highest paid player in league history. In that time, a lot of stuff has happened in the NBA — a lot of stuff — that has taken what was one of the biggest storylines entering the offseason and put it on the backdrop. But in the middle of it all, James Harden signed the same mega-extension with the Rockets, John Wall took a five-year offer from the Wizards and Stephen Curry re-signed with the Warriors for $200-plus million.
Westbrook has bounced between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City a number of times this summer, and hasn’t taken the offer. The deadline is the last day before the regular season starts — Oct. 16 — and with each passing day, the anxiety builds in OKC. Why hasn’t Westbrook accepted the deal that would pay him $207 million over five years?
When Westbrook agreed to an extension last summer (with a player option on the final year), and talked about loyalty and his affinity for the Thunder, he didn’t know the new designated player extension was coming. He thought he was signing a deal that extended him to the 10-year veteran max, a bump to 35 percent of his team’s cap. He thought he’d play out two more seasons, and then revisit his future in free agency in the summer of 2018. He was making a commitment to the Thunder in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s departure, and giving them a direction forward.
But when the new designated player extension was added to the collective bargaining agreement, Westbrook was made retroactively eligible (along with Harden), and suddenly, he’s back to making a decision about his future. This time, though, without any fallout of a departed co-star, or potential threat of an imminent trade should he reject it.
Westbrook built a brand on being the guy who stayed, and produced a season of vengeful validation that set history and won him the MVP award. He went from a polarizing star who carried around a crowd of critics, to one of the league’s most revered and popular players. The expectation since free agency opened was Westbrook would ink the extension, and it remains as such. Yet with almost a month and a half to go before the deadline, Westbrook hasn’t committed.
The Thunder’s offer is on the table, and has been for some time. As Thunder GM Sam Presti said in July, this isn’t really a negotiation. Either Westbrook takes it, or he doesn’t. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Westbrook hasn’t delivered an official answer — either a yes or a no. Though the chatter and anxiety might be steadily increasing, nothing has tangibly changed.
If Westbrook can stomach the constant questions and speculation, he could wait until next year, opt out and hit the open market. The money is the same this summer or the next for Westbrook even with the extension rules, because he’d hit the 10-year threshold (assuming he re-signs with OKC). He could wait and get effectively the same deal.
The primary difference, and it could be key, is the years. The rules of the designated player extension stipulate a minimum of five years (with only a player option available for Year 5). Signing that deal would put Westbrook under contract until he’s 34 years old. If he waited until next summer, he could sign a two- or three-year deal, and hit free agency again at 31 or 32.
In terms of inking another mega contract after this one, Westbrook could be factoring in life at 32, versus 34. And considering the style and physical brutality he plays with, Westbrook at 32 versus 34 could look quite different. (There’s also the difference that if Westbrook wanted a no-trade clause, he’d have to wait until signing a “new” contract next summer.)
But there’s one sticky issue. Last summer when Westbrook signed his extension, he said this: “There’s nowhere else I would rather be than Oklahoma City. … There’s no need to wait if you know where you want to be.”
If he turns down $207 million guaranteed, even with the contract factors of years and age, does that signal he doesn’t know where he wants to be anymore? That come next summer, he might have an eye elsewhere? Not necessarily, but it surely doesn’t give the Thunder a lot of confidence, especially after watching Durant walk away in free agency last summer after affirming and re-affirming his loyalty to the organization, both publicly and privately.
The question you’re asking next is if the Thunder would trade Westbrook should he reject the extension. It would be the pragmatic, albeit ruthless move, but in acquiring Paul George, Presti signaled an all-in belief in this current roster and season. The Thunder aren’t thinking about any Westbrook trade, regardless of this summer’s decision. There has been zero indication, or any kind of whispering from anyone close to Westbrook that he’s thinking of signing elsewhere in 2018.
There’s a lot of time between now and Oct. 16. As those close to Westbrook repeat often, he does things his own way, and in his own time. When he’s ready, he’ll make the call. He hasn’t rejected any offer yet. He hasn’t directly informed the Thunder of anything. He has almost two months left to let them know, and he might take all of it to do it. Westbrook is a new dad, and is enjoying his summertime.
The Thunder open training camp on Sept. 26, which puts Westbrook back in OKC for the season. There’s a belief he could be waiting until then, when he’s back to work for the year ahead, to lock in and make something official — one way or the other.
Or maybe it happens tomorrow. With Westbrook, he’ll let you know when he wants to.