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Eight days. Eight days until the deadline passes for Russell Westbrook’s extension and he becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.
Eight days for the Thunder and Westbrook to come to an agreement before things get a bit trickier. Westbrook becoming a restricted free agent isn’t a black spot on his future in Oklahoma City, but it isn’t ideal. It opens up the possibility that someone offers him more than the Thunder are willing to match. It opens up the option of market competition, which can sometimes be good because the market could determine a lower number, but it could often do the opposite.
Where are the sides right now? According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, a source tells him “both sides are dug in right now.”
The Thunder want to preserve salary-cap space to re-sign James Harden and Serge Ibaka. With the new “Derrick Rose rule,” Westbrook could be eligible for 30 percent of the Thunder’s cap starting next year – a five-year, $94 million extension – if he’s selected to another All-NBA team. Oklahoma City wants to sign him for the smaller five-year, $80 million extension, because it doesn’t think it can keep the team’s core together with Durant and Westbrook gobbling 60 percent of the franchise’s small-market payroll.
Several sources close to the talks believe the sides will find a deal somewhere between the two numbers, but there’s no guarantee.
That exact scenario is something I’ve written about a couple of times. Just based on observations, instinct and a few conversations with people in the know, the Rose Rule is what’s making the Thunder are bit more conservative than they otherwise would’ve been. Because if you extend Westbrook for the max right now and then he goes on to make an All-NBA team, he’d retroactively get a big pay bump.
For instance, Kevin Durant had his contract affected by the new Rose Rule and will make almost $15 million more over the life of his deal because of it. That prospect is something that the Thunder are leery of, especially considering James Harden and Serge Ibaka will be eligible for extensions next season.
Harden could be complicating that as much as anyone because of his rise as a high caliber player. Harden has been compared often to Manu Ginobili but that’s exactly the kind of dollar situation OKC wants to place Harden in. In 2010, Ginobili signed a three-year, $38 million extension with the Spurs. It paid him $11.8 million last season, $12.9M this season and $14.1M next season. The Thunder would love for that to be a five-year deal, but the dollar range is similar. Have Harden on the books for around $12 million a year, KD at $17 million and Westbrook in the $15-16 million range. That’s about $46 million which leaves room for a potential extension for Ibaka and role players like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Daequan Cook and others. Remember, the luxury tax line was set at $70 million last season and that’s the number the Thunder want to stay away from. Right now though, because of the Rose Rule bumping Durant’s deal, OKC is actually over the cap. Which isn’t helping things.
There has been a good amount of chatter about “choosing” between Westbrook or Harden and Ibaka, but that’s not the thinking of the Thunder’s front office. Multiple sources have told me that the Thunder’s preference is to keep the entire core. That might sound painfully obvious, but in the team’s mind, they don’t want to be choosing between anything. They want this group to stay intact for a long run together where they grow, mature and develop. It might not be possible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try. That’s been the plan all along. These guys weren’t drafted just to develop over the life of a rookie deal and then move on. They were drafted to be part of a long-term vision.
That’s the plan. And that’s why there’s a hold-up. It’s a negotiation though. Westbrook and more important, Westbrook’s agent, obviously sees him as a max player. While he probably is, or at least very close to it, in the best interest of the Thunder, he isn’t. I’m not saying it would be good for Westbrook to not play well enough to make All-NBA again, but if he didn’t, it wouldn’t be all bad.
Westbrook wants to remain a part of the Thunder and obviously the Thunder want to keep him. But it’s about dollars and cents lining up for the long-term sustainability of the team. I can’t say with any large amount of confidence that Westbrook gets an extension before Jan. 25, but I do believe he will be in OKC for the next few years.
But I guess we’ll get a better idea of that in eight days.