Are Thunder Title Contenders After Re-Signing Russell Westbrook?
The Oklahoma City Thunder quickly went from surprise title contenders to a team on the brink of sliding out of the NBA playoff picture.
Now they just might be back to being viable NBA Finals threats again.
Westbrook Not Going Anywhere
OKC still may have some work to do on their roster, but the concern of losing star point guard Russell Westbrook to free agency after watching Kevin Durant leave for Golden State is no more.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 4, 2016
Per multiple reports, the team and Westbrook have agreed to a contract extension, giving Westbrook an estimated $85 million over the next three years.
The deal figures to keep Westbrook under contract through the 2019 NBA season, should be not opt out of his player option ahead of the 2019 campaign.
With heavy concern surrounding Westbrook’s potential move ahead of next summer’s free agency period, OKC and their star point guard made sure there were no remaining doubts about his loyalties.
This doesn’t mean Westbrook will retire as a member of the Thunder, but it does show he’s committed to getting OKC over the hump. The ball is now in the Thunder’s court, as they’ll need to continue to make the right moves to give Westbrook and co. a realistic chance at winning.
The team wasn’t able to reach the playoffs two seasons ago when Kevin Durant missed much of the year with a foot injury, so on paper there remains questions about the Thunder’s viability as a championship contender, even with Westbrook staying in town.
While OKC wasn’t a title contender without KD two years ago, it’s certainly worth noting that Westbrook and numerous teammates struggled to stay healthy, as well.
The new NBA landscape still promotes the Thunder as a playoff team and if all goes well, they could still vie for a title when it’s all said and done.
It’s possible the Thunder may have to make another deal to pull that off next season, but signing Westbrook to an extension shows a deeper plan, and that OKC probably isn’t banking on winning immediately during the 2016-17 season.
For the moment, OKC should just be happy they have their superstar locked up, and now they can go to work in making sure he has the supporting cast he needs to get the team to the next level. That level shouldn’t be the Finals as soon as next season, however, as Bovada gives the Thunder just +4000 odds to make it happen, and even those NBA Finals odds could be considered generous.
The harsh reality is OKC began dismantling a team that over-achieved and was one game from the NBA Finals last year. On top of Kevin Durant bolting for Golden State, the team also traded away big man Serge Ibaka.
The silver lining there is the Thunder did get a solid second scorer in Victor Oladipo in the process and could potentially have a long-term replacement for Ibaka in rookie big man, Domantas Sabonis.
OKC didn’t have much of a choice, as Ibaka was scheduled to hit free agency next season and it was looking increasingly unlikely that they’d nail down a long-term deal.
What we do know is that Billy Donovan crafted a versatile winner in his first season on the job, Westbrook gives this team a superstar presence every night out and they still have a tenacious bench that plays until the whistle.
If the Thunder can manage to land one more impact player that can effectively play with Westbrook and Oladipo, they may be on to something. For now, OKC fans can collectively breathe a sigh of relief: they won’t be losing two of the league’s best players in successive seasons.
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