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July 1, 2010, Sam Presti was on Kevin Durant’s front porch at 11:01, ready for Durant to sign a max extension. This offseason didn’t have a July 1 or an 11:01 for Russell Westbrook, at least in terms of NBA free agency, so circumstances were different.
But still, when the NBA officially opened for business last week, most expected Westbrook to have an extension in hand. Hasn’t happened yet. And already, some people are getting concerned.
Berry Tramel already did a terrific job trying to dispel any thoughts that Westbrook might not want to be in Oklahoma City or something, but the question I’m not asking is about that. I’m just trying to make sense of what Presti, or even Westbrook’s camp, could be thinking. Here’s what I see it as.
In the 2005 CBA, players coming off a rookie scale contract could be extended for five more seasons, which would include the seasons on their current deal. An easy example is the max extension — or exstention, as he tweeted it — that Durant signed last season.
In the new one, a year has been cut off of that. Teams can extend for four seasons, with one player eligible to be designated for a fifth season. That player would receive more than the usual max, instead receiving 30 percent rather than 25 of the team’s total cap, but only if he meets the criteria of being MVP, making two All-NBA teams or being voted as an All-Star starter twice. Which is something Westbrook could be eligible for.
So there’s the first issue: Do you give Westbrook four or five years? Seems like a no-brainer to give him five, but it’s at least a discussion point. (And if you’re wondering, Durant’s extension doesn’t retroactively count as that one five-year extension.)
The biggest, most obvious thing, is whether or not Westbrook is worth the max extension. A five-year max would put Westbrook somewhere in the $85 million range, tying up a whole lot of money between just Durant and Westbrook. This year’s cap is set at $58 million so between Westbrook and Durant, in 2012-13, some $33 million of that would be between KD and Russ.
What I’m getting to is that Presti might be trying to convince Westbrook to take a bit less in order to give the team the best possible shot at retaining both James Harden and Serge Ibaka. Both of those players are eligible for extensions next season as well. I’m completely guessing here, but I would guess that Harden’s somewhere in the $10 million a year range with Ibaka somewhere in the $8 million a year range, depending on how they blossom over the next couple seasons.
So add those numbers to Durant, Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins deal which runs through 2015 and Thabo and Nick Collison’s that go through 2014. Not to mention Eric Maynor, who OKC would really love to keep. Westbrook taking $10 million or even $5 million paycut could be the difference in keeping one. That’s a hard sell though to a young player looking to get paid.
Now obviously the Thunder can break over that $58 million cap line for reasons like re-signing their own players and the luxury tax line is $70 million. While I doubt Oklahoma City would be excited and completely willing to break the tax line, it’s not something that Clay Bennett and company would be entirely opposed to if it meant keeping the core intact.
There could be a chance that the team would prefer to wait until next summer and let Westbrook become a restricted free agent and have the market decide his value. More than likely that would still be a max, but in the same way the Grizzlies just did with Marc Gasol, OKC could just wait for someone to offer Westbrook a number and then match it. Or they could just be waiting to see what he has in store for this year to try and firm up that number. Who knows.
But I wouldn’t read anything into the extension taking a while. Derrick Rose just got his five-year, $94 million extension with Chicago. You can be sure Westbrook’s people noticed that. The Thunder have until Jan. 25 to get one done and I was told by a person that knows that there is absolutely no rush to get anything done. And the reason for it, he said, is because it’s not necessary to hurry. Everyone is on the same page. Westbrook wants to be here and the team wants him to be here. It’s just about coming to a mutual agreement on what’s best for everyone.
Presti and Westbrook’s agent are talking. They’re trying to figure out a deal. An extension is absolutely possible. It could happen next month, next week or even today. But it could also not happen at all and I wouldn’t worry about that. Russell Westbrook will be part of Oklahoma City’s future.
Westbrook said at media day that this wasn’t a distraction at all, and I believe that. I don’t think he’s really thinking about this all that much, because he’s going to get paid and his checks will have Clay Bennett’s signature on them.