After losing Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder are moving quickly to keep Russell Westbrook in town for longer than just this season. Westbrook and will sign a three-year, $85 million contract extension with the Thunder that'll tack on extra salary this year and add two additional years on his deal, including a player option for 2018-19, according to SB Nation's Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Wojnarowski reports the Thunder will likely hold a news conference Thursday to announce the deal. It sounds like it's done.
Westbrook was previously slated to become a free agent in 2017. Once this new deal is complete, he will commit to the Thunder for at least this year and next.
This will come as a huge relief to Thunder fans questioning the organization's future after Durant spurned them to sign with the Warriors. General manager Sam Presti could move forward knowing that Westbrook is at least sticking around for two more years. Without an extension, Presti would likely be forced to trade Westbrook or risk losing him for nothing the same way he lost Durant. With one, the organization has some breathing room.
Yet this arrangement also benefits Westbrook in certain ways. While he'd be foregoing his freedom to sign elsewhere, he can stand to make more money over the short and long haul. The Thunder left open their cap space this summer, which allows them to raise his 2016-17 salary from $17.8 million to the maximum $26.5 million through a unique CBA arrangement.
In exchange for pledging one additional year to the Thunder, Westbrook can re-enter the free-agent market in 2018, after his 10th season. Under the current rules, that means Westbrook would be eligible to start his next contract at 35 percent of the salary cap. If he became a free agent next summer, he would only be eligible to sign for 30 percent. He also received a player option for 2018-19 that he can use should he get injured or if his performance dramatically falls off, though it's likely he'd decline that option.
Once Westbrook's agreement with the Thunder is finalized, he would make $26.5 million this season, $28.5 million in 2017-18 and have a player option for $30.6 million in 2018-19.
This deal would buy time for both sides as they try to plot their next move after the departure of Durant. Presti now has two years to rebuild the Thunder around Westbrook instead of one. He began that process with a draft-day deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis. The Thunder also let Dion Waiters go in free agency and signed promising Spanish wing Alex Abrines, but have otherwise been quiet in free agency. The next big step may be to make a run at Blake Griffin or another top target in free agency next year.
With the exception of an ambiguous yet entertaining cackle in a friend's Facebook video, Westbrook has stayed silent about his future since Durant left. Initial reports suggested that Westbrook would not renegotiate to extend his contract, but others painted a picture of Westbrook being eager to stay with the Thunder and growing more intrigued by the possibility of an extension.
It seems clear that Westbrook is serious about making a commitment to the organization for at least the next two years. Though there is a potential financial benefit down the road once he signs this deal, he would be risking a year of his prime on the hope of the Thunder properly rebuilding around him.
Nevertheless, it appears a mutually beneficial resolution will happen. If that happens, get ready for Angry Russ, looking for revenge.
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