Now that Kevin Durant is a member of the Golden State Warriors, it’s only a matter of time before the Oklahoma City Thunder cut their losses and trade Russell Westbrook.
Or maybe not.
As ESPN.com’s Royce Young explained:
They still have Westbrook, though, at least for another year. He’s an unrestricted free agent next summer himself and can make this same kind of decision to play elsewhere. Those inside the Thunder organization were long concerned about outside forces swaying Durant to leave; they don’t feel that way about Westbrook. As one team source said, this will only make Westbrook want to stay more. Of course, it’s a long way until July 1, 2017. And a lot can change in a year, as the Thunder know all too well with Durant now.
But the Thunder will try and batten down the hatches and now make their sell to Westbrook: It’s your team now. They’ll probably pitch him on an extension to send a message that they’re committed to him and work to build the team around him.
This is a borderline curious development. To me, Westbrook always seemed like the bigger flight risk. He has gravitated toward the public eye, not to be confused with the media’s eye, more than his former running mate. If a team like the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks came calling, with a semi-respectable roster already in place, it’s not difficult to envision Westbrook biting—especially now that his superstar sidekick is trying to create one of the most dominant dynasties in NBA history.
Maybe Westbrook really isn’t a flight risk, though. He, like Durant, has spent his entire career up until this point with the Thunder. Perhaps his loyalty runs deeper, or maybe he likes the idea of being the last remaining member of the Core Four (James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Durant), and welcomes the responsibility of bringing a title to OKC.
Whatever his inclination one year in advance of free agency, the Thunder must find out. If he isn’t wholly interested in a return, they cannot lose him without reimbursement. They needed to roll the dice on the Durant. They had no choice. But they cannot afford to lose a second top-seven superstar for nothing.