As a fan, there is nothing more devastating than losing your favorite player unexpectedly. But on a day people celebrate freedom and the happiness that comes with it, Thunder fans were forced to mourn the loss of Oklahoma City's brightest star.
And I'm not talking about Kevin Durant.
After announcing his decision to join the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant forced "the city that raised him" to address the ugly prospect of rebuilding. Following the news was a wave of worries about retaining Russell Westbrook before he can ditch OKC next year as an unrestricted free agent. However, after suggesting talks about signing the point guard to an extension this summer, the Thunder were shot down with reports stating there is "no chance" Westbrook renegotiates a contract before becoming a free agent.
Westbrook's opposition to signing an extension right away led Thunder fans to believe the front office will begin exploring trades.
Here is why the Thunder SHOULD NOT trade Russell Westbrook just yet:
Kevin Durant was a monumental part of the Thunder's birth as a franchise. He helped establish the team as a force in the grueling Western Conference and even led the newly relocated unit to an NBA Finals. His impact will never be understated. But Russell Westbrook's impact on the Thunder is even greater. While Durant can be credited for contributing more to the wins column, Westbrook's style of play bred Thunder basketball: ice and fire. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played so well together, but what they brought to the court was vastly different. Durant was Mr. Nice Guy, Westbrook is Mr. No Mercy.
By dealing Westbrook before the season begins, the Thunder are ridding themselves of the very fire the team brings each game (it sounds cheesy but it's true). That "no mercy" mentality is gone and, all of a sudden, the Thunder lose their identity. Trading Westbrook before the season begins also proves that the front office does not understand what type of player he is. Westbrook is a player who knows he can turn any team into a competitive one...and by that logic, it is hard to see him leaving in free agency so easily. If you think he would leave for money, you will be happy to hear OKC has plenty of room to offer big bucks. If you think he would leave because of the team's inability to win, you know nothing about his drive as a competitor. He may see this as an opportunity to grow his legacy and become Oklahoma City's "guy" the way Durant was.
Refusing to renegotiate a contract was a smart move for the young guard; especially since low-level players are making so much money this off-season. The salary cap jumped from $70 million last season to $94 million this year. Next year, the cap is projected to hit $108 million. Why would Westbrook consider signing a deal this year when he can make so much more money signing next year? Instead of assuming he is planning on ditching, it is more reasonable to believe he is waiting it out one more year.
Westbrook is a player that appreciates a challenge, and this season he is facing his greatest one yet: keeping the Thunder relevant in the West. While OKC is running the risk of losing him for nothing, they should give him a chance and see if he enjoys carrying a team on his own for an entire season. If he doesn't, explore trades close to the deadline.
The Thunder should always listen to any offers that come their way, but they should hold off on making moves until at least the deadline. By trading him away before the season, the Thunder show they do not have confidence in their ability to keep a player, and accept the doom of a rebuilding process right away.
My advice: ride this one out.
Russell Westbrook may enjoy the entire spotlight instead of half of it. He may be passionate about Oklahoma City more than you know. He may be excited to run the floor with Victor Oladipo. He may be afraid to break up his dancing duo with Cameron Payne. By rejecting the offer of an extension does not necessarily mean he is leaving, it could possibly mean he just wants more money.
He is a human after all.