The plight of the small-market NBA team doesn’t stop with Kevin Durant departing the Oklahoma City Thunder—it’s only beginning because now the team has to decide what to do with Russell Westbrook.
What to do? It’s funny to joke about how Westbrook might go off for 40/12/12 next season while alone, chip on his shoulder and maybe reel in MVP. But it’s not funny to think about the Thunder suffering the same fate twice.
According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Westbrook won’t do another deal with the Thunder:
Told emphatically by league source there’s no chance Russell Westbrook will do a renegotiation/extension of his contract (one yr remaining).
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 4, 2016
It’s time for Westbrook to go.
The Thunder waited on Durant instead of demanding an extension or dishing him. They paid the ultimate price, losing a close battle for Durant’s services, the voices around the superstar convincing him not only to join a bigger market, but to join a team with a better perceived shot at a title.
Even worse, the Thunder’s refusal to do anything but bow to what Durant wanted helped create a superpower perhaps no team can defeat.
Oklahoma City had the right idea, shipping away Serge Ibaka on the final year of his deal and getting Victor Oladipo, an upgrade who would have fit well next to Westbrook and Durant. It didn’t work, and now the Thunder have to think about the future.
The future is not getting handicapped with nothing in return for Westbrook’s departure. As much as the globe wants to view Westbrook as a guy who will be motivated to run “his” team and take down the guy who left him, the globe also thought Durant wouldn’t leave in the first place.
The Thunder can get a monster haul for Westbrook. Monster. Young players and assets should be the name of the game, no matter which teams enter the fray and how many.
Think about—Oklahoma City might have been the best small-market team of all time. They took the blueprint for success given their market size—elite drafting and player development—and downright perfected it. Starting the process over with assets gained via a Westbrook trade will put the franchise in a much, much better situation compared to simply hoping Westbrook doesn’t leave and getting nothing in return.
The Thunder have now been burnt once. It’s vital to the future of the organization it doesn’t happen again. No sense in hoping Westbrook can carry the team to a title on his own this year. It’s time for the Thunder to incite a bidding war and jump-start a rebuild around the next great young core, with the lessons learned helping the organization keep the talent in town next time around.