Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder are going all-in on the 2017-18 NBA season as they made the trade for Paul George, and have reigning MVP Russell Westbrook locked up for the next 11 months. No doubt, Thunder fans are juiced for this coming NBA season, but the future past July 1, 2018 could get ugly in a hurry.
Westbrook has still not signed his super max contract with the Thunder, a deal that would likely make him the richest player in the NBA – even more wealthy than his old buddy James Harden.
“While the salary cap numbers could change over the next few years, based on the current numbers, Westbrook would actually make more money than Harden for each of the six years covered by the extension due to new money kicking in a year earlier and eight percent salary raises outpacing a higher 2019-20 cap estimate,” wrote The Sporting News’ Danny Leroux on July 13. “This amazing sum and commitment is also why Westbrook delaying or even refusing to sign his Designated Veteran extension should be concerning to the Thunder. He cannot get that contract anywhere else and certainly cannot come close to locking in that kind of money this offseason.”
Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript also recently pondered why Westbrook has not yet signed the extension – and why the Thunder are so confident that this is not an issue.
“The reasons for the Thunder’s optimism along with the ones for Westbrook making the organization wait are still unclear,” Katz wrote last week. “Yet, they’re consistent with the past. Westbrook waited a month last summer to sign an extension that was effectively for one season. And that was during a time when putting off re-signing tangibly affected the organization. The Thunder had to stay under the salary cap last summer to account for the raise in Westbrook’s 2016-17 salary after renegotiating it. Because of that, the team wasn’t able to bring in free agents and had to let former OKC guard Dion Waiters walk to the Miami Heat.”
Westbrook has until Oct. 16 to sign the super max with the Thunder, so there’s still time, but this delay is starting to make the loyal Thunder backers a tad nervous.
The doomsday scenario here for OKC fans is that Westbrook and George both jump to the Lakers next summer to join LeBron James and create a super team in Westbrook and George’s hometown of Los Angeles. Obviously all of the superstar players in this scenario would have to take a significant pay cut, but we now live in a time where superstar athletes know they can make up the money elsewhere (see Kevin Durant on the Warriors and his Silicon Valley ventures, and Tom Brady and his TB12 company). Westbrook’s mainstream profile would be raised considerably if he were to jump to Los Angeles and it would be easy to find endorsements in Hollywood to make up the money.
Westbrook is no dummy, and knows the odds of George instantly falling in love with Oklahoma are slim – even if the Thunder were to somehow knock off the Warriors and win a championship. It’s why the reigning league MVP might choose to keep his options open for next summer, and pass – right now - on becoming the highest paid man in basketball.