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Sounds of Thunder: Hey Oklahoma City Thunder, Happy belated Russell Westbrook Day!!!

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Not what you expected? Me either.

Thunder.com

One year ago today, Russell Westbrook pulled the Oklahoma City Thunder fan base out of its darkest hour and gave it a reason to hope again. I have lived in Oklahoma City my entire life and I can tell you the feeling of dread after July 4, 2016 was palpable in a way I had not seen since that awful spring in 1989 when Barry Switzer resigned as the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma on June 19th under the shadow of repeated criminal allegations against players and a three-year probation leveled against the program by the NCAA.

The consensus last summer was that Westbrook would follow fellow All-Star, Kevin Durants, departure with a demand to be traded. Consequently, for a month after Durant’s departure the feeling grew that is was just a matter of time before the other shoe fell.

But it didn’t.....

Seemingly out of nowhere, WTLC caught wind of rumors on August 3rd that Westbrook was flying into Oklahoma City to sign an extension. Those rumors proved true and the air of excitement surrounding that signing was so high on August 4th that Mayor Mick Cornett officially declared August 4, 2016, Russell Westbrook Day.

twitter.com/mickcornett

Fast-forward 365 days.

After extending his contract with the Thunder, Westbrook went on to put together one of the most spectacular seasons in NBA history. He averaged a triple-double for the season, eclipsed Oscar Robertson’s record for triple-doubles in a season (a record many felt was unbreakable), almost single-handedly led a very young Thunder squad into the playoffs, won the scoring title, and added a MVP award to his trophy case.

Westbrook also led the league in PER, Assist Percentage, BPM, OBPM, and Value Over Replacement Player.

Most players would look at those accomplishments and be well pleased, but Russell Westbrook is not most players. I will never forget Russell’s response when asked his thoughts about winning the scoring title following the 2014/15 season.....

I seriously doubt that Russell looks at this season’s accomplishments quite that dismissively, but that reaction from two years ago tells us that while individual accomplishments are fine, they don’t measure up against Russell’s team goals.

A sentiment Westbrook touched on in his end-of-season interview in April:

The goal is a championship. Anything less, no matter what individual accolades may come his way, just means there is more work to do. A sentiment shared by Sam Presti as shown by the incredible moves he has made this summer to improve the personnel around his star player.

The trade for Paul George and the free agent signings of Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson guarantee that the Thunder will be better this season. I even went so far as to argue the current Thunder roster is better than the 2015/16 collection that could have—should have won a championship. It is interesting to reflect on Westbrook’s comments in April after the changes this Summer of Sam has brought about...

After following Russell throughout his professional career one thing that has become abundantly clear is that his inner circle is small and the word trust is not one he throws around nonchalantly. Family, friends, teammates, loyalty, and trust are too important to Westbrook to take this answer lightly no matter how casual Russell’s demeanor was when he said it.

Now we know why.

I am only guessing, but we have to remember the interview on camera comes after the sit down interview with Presti. As Russell said, he and Sam have an open line of communication and I think he conveyed his desire to Presti to see some improvement in the lineup and Presti was able to communicate how aggressively he planned to do just that.

Just over two months after giving his end-of-season interview, Presti pulled off the trade of the summer and landed Paul George. Westbrook’s Instagram reaction:

I think all Thunder fan’s could relate with Russell’s feelings at this point....

That trade on June 30th had another effect. The hope that Westbrook would sign the Designated Player Veteran Extension morphed into a virtual lock and all that need happen was for the clock to strike midnight, July 1, and it was a done deal. But it wasn’t...

More than thirty days have passed and Westbrook still has not signed the extension even though all the other DPVE eligible players this summer have signed their contracts and Westbrook, at $235 M, standing to reap the biggest benefit.

I surmised Russell must be waiting on the 1st anniversary of Russell Westbrook Day to sign. That day is here and the word is that even though Westbrook is in town, no signing is expected.

Why? and more importantly, as THE biggest Russell Westbrook fan on the planet short of his family, why am I not in total panic mode right now? To be perfectly honest, I don’t truly know the answer, to either question. I don’t know why Russell hasn’t signed a contract that could solidify the financial futures of every Westbrook from now until the end of time nor do I know why I’m not overly concerned. I’m just not.

Am I aware that 12 months from now the Thunder could be in full blown rebuild mode if Westbrook and George decide to leave? Absolutely... Is it possible? No doubt about it...

So be wondering why am I still celebrating Russell Westbrook Day? That’s simple, if not for RWD, the Thunder would already be in full blown rebuild mode with a zero shot at avoiding it and I truly believe it can be avoided.

How?

First by this team living up to its potential. Presti knew he could not match the Warriors offensive firepower so he is coming at them with a two-way attack. More offense coupled with a lot more defense. The Thunder may come up short, but my guess is that before next season is done this team will not only earn Golden State’s respect, but the rest of the NBA’s as well.

And second, by attracting that last piece of the puzzle to win Russell his championship next summer and that will take money. Money that might be tied up if Westbrook signs the DPVE.

From RealGM’s Danny Leroux:

The first new season of a Designated Veteran contract or extension must be worth at least 30% of that season’s salary cap: Other than eligibility, this is the most rigid requirement of any Designated Veteran contract. While Designated Veteran extensions do not bump up salaries on remaining seasons, the first new season of an agreement must be worth between (or exactly) 30-35% of the salary cap in that season.

In Wesbrook’s case that would range from $32.7 to $38.15M based on the $109M projected salary cap for 2018/19.

In her article with NewOK.com about the Westbrook signing, or more accurately, non-signing, Jenni Carlson wrote:

Yet, with the opportunity to sew up nearly $40 million a season for the next six years, Westbrook instead poses with Mickey Mouse.

Maybe when you already have tens of millions of dollars, you're not as motivated to sign up for tens of millions more. Or maybe he wants to wait and see how this season plays out; he could still sign the megamax extension next offseason. Or maybe he wants to sign a different extension; he can negotiate a shorter extension with the Thunder but would have to wait until next offseason.

After reading those words I relaxed. Not because I think Carlson is 100% correct, but because her statement touched on another line of thought. Flexibility. I know how crazy and reckless Westbrook comes across on the court, but that belies the careful and deliberate person I know him to be off the hardwood.

He eats the same meticulously constructed PB&J sandwich before each game, does his own bills, and most telling of all, waited at least seven years before marrying the lovely Miss Nina Earl. Westbrook doesn’t rush into life’s decisions like he does opposing seven- footers along the baseline. And once that contract is signed, there is no turning back. And then a thought hit me.

Right now, Russell is in complete control of almost a quarter billion dollars. Sam Presti has all but said it:

That's a lot of control. Let's say he signs the big deal in the next couple of weeks. We as fans feel better, no doubt about it. But what position does that put the Thunder in if they are looking to add that 3rd guy to go along with Westbrook and Paul George?

At the time we thought Michael Jordan introducing Westbrook at the Oklahoma HOF ceremonies was cute, but what if Russ is closer to the GOAT than anyone realizes.

Step in the time machine for a moment and go back 25 years. It's not talked about much now, but at that time, Jordan never really got what he was truly worth from the Bulls, BUT it gave a truly cheap ownership group an opportunity to add pieces around Jordan; players like BJ Armstrong, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Horace Grant, and finally Dennis Rodman.

Jordan never saw seriously commensurate money until 1996, but I have a feeling he somehow held some power over the finances of the team in negotiations to get what he needed to win. Westbrook is in a very similar position, but he can't do anything except sign the mega deal this summer. In order to gain flexibility and sign either a shorter deal as Carlson suggests, or one for less money, or one structured to allow the wiggle room to add that final piece as I suspect, he has to wait ‘til next summer.

Jordan always understood as a superstar in this game that the real money came from winning championships and endorsements, and his BB contract was more like an allowance. If I can recognize how a DPVE contract might hamper the Thunder from adding that final piece, you can bet your bottom dollar a guy that was all set to attend Stanford University on a math scholarship like Russell already has.

Call me crazy if you like, but it does connect a lot of dots...and it will help me sleep better at night.

Either way, whether I am right or wrong, if Westbrook doesn’t sign the extension before opening night, it sets the stage for the most important season since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City, and possibly the biggest game of chicken in NBA history with no turning back after the February trade deadline.

Poll

How stressed out are you that Westbrook has not yet signed his extension?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Stress-free; happy for whatever Westbrook decides
    (90 votes)
  • 38%
    I want Westbrook to stay, but I need an answer so I can sleep at night!
    (73 votes)
  • 1%
    Woj is probably going to block me on Twitter for pestering him
    (2 votes)
  • 12%
    I think I’m developing an ulcer
    (23 votes)
188 votes total Vote Now