By Michael Kinney
The fireworks are set to start at midnight. That’s when the free agency period in the NBA will kick into gear. Technically it’s 11 p.m. in Oklahoma, but midnight sounds so much more dramatic.
While there already have been a couple of block buster trades that have set the league on fire, there could be several more deals on the verge of taking place.
But for Oklahoma City fans, there is really only one player they are concerned about and that is league MVP Russell Westbrook.
When the clock strikes 11 p.m. Westbrook is able to sign a Designated Veteran Player Exception with the Thunder that could pay him $207 million over five seasons. It will be the biggest contract in NBA history. He earned the DPE after making All NBA this past season.
The Thunder trading for Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domas Sabonis is a big win in helping make up Westbrook’s mind.
If Westbrook chooses to sign the extension for the max, his salary per year will rise from $28 million this season to $35, $38, $41, $44, and $47 million per year.
Despite the ludicrous amount of money on the table, there is no guarantee that Westbrook will sign the extension. He has basically two more years on his current deal that he signed summer. But he can opt out of it after the 2017-18 season and become an unrestricted free agent.
If Westbrook decides to not sign the DPE extension and prefers to wait until next season, that puts Sam Presti and the Thunder in an extremely difficult situation. The same exact situation they dealt with last season when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City and they got nothing in return.
Presti will have to decide if he will roll the dice again knowing what the consequences could be, which is Westbrook walking and OKC getting nothing. Or does he do the seemingly unthinkable and start looking to trade the MVP. Trading Westbrook seems like an impossible reality, but it has to be on the table as an option.
The short list of players who were traded the year after winning the MVP include Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bob McAdoo.
From Westbrook’s point of view, he gains very little individually signing the new extension in the coming days except security that he will paid paid if he gets hurt. He can get the same money if he signs with the Thunder next year or if he is traded to another team and they sign him due to his Bird Rights.
But, if Westbrook opts out next season and doesn’t resign with Oklahoma. The most he can command is $160 million over four years.
So, if Westbrook doesn’t sign now, what message is he telling the Thunder?
Westbrook’s situation is a little different from KDs, because Durant left a Thunder team that still had a top five player on the roster and was just one win away from the NBA Finals. Westbrook is coming off an historic season in which he set triple double records en route to the MVP. But all it got him was a quick first round exit.
So the questions Westbrook and his camp will have to answer include:
1. Can Oklahoma City attract big name free agents to compete with the current trend of super teams? 2. Can Westbrook attract free agents to come and play with him?
3. Does the current Thunder roster have the potential to grow into something special?
4. Will Presti, owner Clay Bennett and the Thunder brass continue to do whatever it takes to keep Oklahoma City competitive?
5. Is it more important to be part of a possible title winning super team or to lead the Thunder to a championship when no one gave Oklahoma City a chance?
Those are tough questions that Westbrook may not be able to answer now. But regardless, he still has to make the biggest decision of his pro career at some point.
Oklahoma City will target players such as hometown kid Blake Griffin (not very likely) to Rudy Gay (decent chance) during free agency. But it will be hard for any free agent to commit long term to the Thunder without knowing what Westbrook will do after the upcoming season.
All the while, Thunder fans are sitting back with their fingers crossed. Because what happens in the couple of days could determine the future of the Oklahoma City franchise.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com