The last step in Russell Westbrook’s five-year, $80 million extension with the Thunder was taken Sunday afternoon at the team’s old practice facility in front of crowd that included Westbrook’s parents and brother, his agent, owner Clay Bennet and a bunch of youth basketball players and their families.
Maybe it was a bit coincidental that the presser was there, but that old practice facility is really where it all started for Westbrook. Scott Brooks said he remembered looking at Westbrook during the first Thunder practice there and saying, “My first thought after the 10 minutes of the drill and this is a true story, I said to myself, ‘I am glad I’m coaching not playing anymore because I couldn’t guard this guy.’”
Westbrook, Sam Presti and Scott Brooks talked about the important move the Thunder all kind of spreading the credit around to each other. But Westbrook repeated one theme throughout: He wanted to be in Oklahoma City not just because the team is good or because they’re paying him. He said it multiple times — he wanted to be here because of the community, the organization and the fans.
“From day one, this is the spot I wanted to be,” Westbrook said. “The organization believed in me by surprisingly picking me No. 4. A lot of guys doubted me, but from day one this organization supported me.”
Westbrook recognized his dad for pushing him, his mom for being an encouragement and his brother for being a role model.
“Growing up me and brother always said ‘No pain, no gain.’ Right now I can say I made a little gain,” Westbrook said.
Presti recounted his first impressions of Westbrook, crediting assistant general manager Troy Weaver for kind of zeroing in on the UCLA product.
“I first met Russell in a small hotel room on May 27, 2008, at the predraft camp in Orlando, Florida. Troy Weaver, one of our assistant general manager, was the first person to identify Russell as someone we should be watching,” Presti said. “We were looking for a person, as much as a player to strengthen the resolve and fiber for our vision of a team. You could say we were looking for a person that would ask why not as opposed to why now.
“He’s early for everything,” Presti said. “In fact, our draft workout, I went to L.A. and it was one of our final ones and I was standing around waiting for him to arrive. And we’re like, ‘Where is this guy?’ He had been there for a half hour. He’s parked in front of us. That’s an indication that the guy has incredibly innate discipline and persistence.”
I asked Presti if it weren’t for the lockout, if he would’ve been on Westbrook’s front doorstep with a max offer sheet in hand.
“It’s hypothetical,” Presti said. “I’d have to put myself in that position, but I think Russ knows how much he means to the organization and primarily the fact that he was one of the first people to wear the uniform carries significance in this type of situation.”
Naturally, Westbrook was asked about his relationship with KD and the fact they’re going to be playing together for five more years. And if this would end the noise about a supposed rift between the two.
“I wish it would have never started,” Westbrook said. “But me and Kevin get along great on and off the floor and will be together for at least five more years and hopefully we can stay together.
“Why wouldn’t you want to play with the best scorer and maybe the best player in the league on you team?”
About the fact Westbrook left potentially $15 million on the table to remain with the Thunder and give the organization a better chance of signing James Harden and Serge Ibaka in the future, Westbrook didn’t really want to credit himself.
“Yeah I mean, but that wasn’t my objective. My objective was to find a spot where I’m happy and where I have an opportunity to win championships,” he said. “It wasn’t a tough decision for me to make. When you in this spot where you’re wanted and the fans and people love you where you are, I wouldn’t want to go nowhere else.”
There was some chatter and questions about Westbrook choosing to stay in OKC rather than following the trend of dictating a move to a bigger market. While Westbrook reiterated that OKC is where he wanted to be, the fact is, no player on a rookie deal has ever turned down a max extension. Those players pushing for new places and brighter lights all re-signed with their respective teams too. It was their third contract where they moved.
But that’s five years from now. A long time before anyone has to worry about that.