August 7, 2016, 12:25 am
One Big Thing: Thank you Russell
The news of the week is obviously Russell Westbrook re-upping with Oklahoma City on a three year deal worth $85 million.
Westbrook received a hero’s welcome when he touched ground in the Oklahoma capital to put pen to paper and talk to the press. It was a sight to behold; seeing a fanbase and organization come back together and rejoice after coming oh so close before the foundation of the team was ripped away by the lure of Golden State.
They had just had their hearts yanked out and stepped on; left to pick up the pieces and consider what the future would hold if Westbrook decided to jump ship too. If they couldn’t win with one of the game’s best scorers in the fold why would Westbrook want to stick around without him?
The rumors swirled about the next move. Sam Presti and the Thunder would have to move quickly. If there was no actual extension being worked on they had to at least take all calls.
Boston certainly could put together a compelling package if Danny Ainge felt like being reasonable. The Lakers had some interesting pieces to put together and inject the Thunder with some youth in the first steps of an accelerated rebuild.
If Westbrook’s availability became an open secret you could’ve bet on a line that’s 29 teams long.
If he hit free agency how would the landscape shift?
Would the Lakers’ pitch of being the Lakers finally work? Could the Thunder lure him back by going after someone like Blake Griffin? What sort of crazy pitch meeting details would leak?
But no, that’s all for naught. The sense of foreboding that surrounded Oklahoma City is gone. For now they celebrate.
There’s questions left to answer, namely how the Thunder can realistically expect to top last season.
Westbrook in the fold obviously gives them a good start. The most electrifying man in the game is the human embodiment of unabashed fun and will make things exciting even if there’s less winning than there was last season.
With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out and Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis in it’ll be a fun discovery process for the Thunder. They’re definitely not as good as they were in 2015-16 but the fit is interesting.
Oladipo’s athleticism and cutting ability should give Westbrook another path to boatloads of assists and might even allow him to play off the ball if coach Billy Donovan sees fit. Oladipo, like a young Westbrook, fits into the mold of a combo guard who can really do whatever you ask of him.
There’s a huge chunk of touches that just opened up for anyone who cares to take them. Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams will soak up a lot of those but it’s now unmistakably Westbrook’s team.
For all the x’s and o’s basketball talk that will happen, it’s a pretty simple situation. There’s a top level player who just got spurned by a longtime friend who now has a California-sized chip on his shoulder. They won’t hit the same heights as last year but make no mistake: Westbrook will go bananas.
For all the consideration that his free agency was starting to receive, it never really felt like Westbrook was going to leave. Any sort of talk about him heading off to join forces with other stars was speculation that never fit given what we know about Westbrook.
He’s not buddy-buddy when the game is on. He’s the guy that squeezed Charlie Villanueva out to get through his intricate handshake. If you’re not on the Thunder, he’s going to do his best to dissect you or go right through you.
In a different jersey? You’re just in his way.
Even his snapchat this summer has been nothing but him, his family and his basketball camp. There’s no hanging out with other players. Russell has been doing Russell just like he always has.
Westbrook looks like a straight shooter. He doesn’t like doing the media thing, so he doesn’t talk to them that much. There’s no A to D by way of B and C. With Westbrook it seems like he’s going to find the path of least resistance whether that’s barreling through the lane or telling ownership what he’s thinking. It’s simple with him.
Fittingly enough, the Thunder have gone from major turmoil to a simple reality. It’s not KD and Russ anymore. It’s just Russ. He could’ve orchestrated his way out like we all expected but that’s just not his style.
He’s the lead dog and the face of the franchise now.
The Thunder, and the entire NBA, are better for it.