It’s remarkable how three minutes away from making it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012 can alter the direction of an entire franchise. Welcome to the Oklahoma City Thunder story. Just a couple of stops when it came to Klay Thompson’s lethal three-pointers and actually taking care of the ball in the fourth quarter of Game 6 at home and the Thunder would have been playing the Cleveland Cavaliers in mid-June. Instead, they faced a summer crisis that had the best player in their franchise history walk away.
With the departure of Kevin Durant, there are many question marks surrounding the Thunder. Russell Westbrook is the main one and by the looks of it, he might follow Durant’s route and look elsewhere to play basketball for the rest of his career. Like Durant, Westbrook is one of the top players in the league. Some argue he’s the best point guard in the NBA, others fight to say he is the top overall player. No matter the case, there’s no denying the athletic freak’s talents. He’s more outspoken than Durant and many other stars around the league, which makes a bigger market destination seem ideal.
Like everyone else in the sports world, Durant electing to leave the Thunder and head to the Bay Area probably left Westbrook in shock. Early reports indicate that the point guard wouldn’t let Durant be Durant and dominated the ball, especially late in games. Hero ball was often played in Oklahoma City, something Durant no longer wanted to be a part of and a big reason why they blew a 3-1 lead to the Golden State Warriors.
“Obviously, our relationship won’t ever be the same,” Durant said of Westbrook. “But it’s something I wanted to do, and I expressed that to him. Hopefully he respected it.”
The Hollywood-style Westbrook playing in Los Angeles makes too much sense. He went to UCLA, grew up idolizing Magic Johnson, and has the swagger to fit the southern California mold. A Lakers team who desperately needs another proven face of the franchise would welcome Westbrook with open arms. With so much star power in the purple and gold for the past decades, it’s hard to remain patient for guys like D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram to hit that All-Star level. Westbrook is already living that star life. He’d be a perfect fit, but changes would have to be made in order to acquire the guard.
Going out East would be another viable option for Westbrook. Outside of the Cavaliers, there’s not a legitimate threat to make the Finals. There’s a reason why LeBron James has been to six straight. The Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics have both made moves to try and dethrone James, and the latter seems to be in the running for Westbrook. With the addition of Al Horford to fill their much needed center gap and the development of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Avery Bradley progressing quicker and quicker, Westbrook would be surrounded with talent. It’d be almost impossible to not have them penciled in as the new favorite in the Eastern Conference.
With Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs rapidly aging, they’re trying to do whatever they can to stay in contention even longer. A Westbrook-Kawhi Leonard-LaMarcus Aldridge trio is sure to cause some havoc in the league and potentially even threaten the Warriors’ super team with one of their own.
Or maybe Westbrook stays loyal. Maybe he claims the city of Oklahoma City as his own. Maybe he wants to remain that franchise player. Maybe he enjoys the small market and college feel city. Maybe he wants to stay with one team his whole career like a Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki.
Maybe might not be a strong enough word.
Sam Presti has an impressive draft resume, but the moves outside of selecting college players have been disappointing. Trading James Harden who could have nearly guaranteed a Thunder title right now; choosing Westbrook’s side over Durant’s for years, which finally sent the disgruntled forward packing are just a couple of the major examples.
With the state of today’s NBA and given Westbrook’s competitive nature, it’s no surprise that he didn’t sign an extension to stay in Oklahoma City. He needs to see change; he needs the ownership to build a team that can seriously contend with the best of the best. If Presti, Billy Donovan, and the rest of the squad can’t present that to a top five talent in the league, he’s packing his bags.
Westbrook’s time in Oklahoma City might run out as soon as this offseason or even in February, prior to the trade deadline. Many teams are interested in a player like him, even if there is no guarantee that he will stay with the respective team for the long-term. The league has become predictable and there are only a handful of teams (or less) that have a legitimate shot at winning an NBA title. Most know that having Russell Westbrook on your team will significantly increase your chances, making him a hot commodity for at least these next few months.