Friday Bolts – 1.20.12

Zach Lowe of SI.com on Russell Westbrook’s extension: “And so the Thunder did what any smart franchise would do: They locked up Westbrook with a five-year, max-level extension worth nearly $80 million. They’re confident that a guy who just turned 23 will continue to grow into the NBA’s most demanding position — a position the Westbrook did not play until he reached the pros. Westbrook did not push for the pumped-up maximum deal he could have gotten under the new Derrick Rose rule (five years, $94 million), but regardless, the extension means the Thunder have about $48 million committed to just five players for 2013-14. James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor are less than a year away from being extension-eligible, and it’s an open question whether the Thunder can afford their entire core — a question that turns on how fast the luxury-tax level rises, and how healthy the Oklahoma City market is.”

Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie Westbrook: “He’s 23, and he’s absolutely brilliant. With several admiring expletives deleted. Westbrook is well worth this contract extension, his status as a max-contract guy and his ranking amongst the NBA’s elite. He’s also worth your scorn, when he pulls up for an ill-fated 16-footer while leaning toward his right. He’s also worth your patience, as you watch him grow and deliver and earn the money handed to him by what appears to be the smartest front office in the NBA. This story isn’t over yet. No absolutes, no black and white posturing, and no righteous indignation as to Westbrook’s station be it high or low. Just enjoy watching him, as he figures it out.”

Sam Amick of SI.com: “The perception that there was hostility between the Thunder stars was only relevant because Durant had already signed a max deal last summer and Westbrook’s future was uncertain. There were rumblings that the Los Angeles native who has flourished in Durant’s shadow yearned to be the alpha male in a big city, and that anything less than a max offer would have fostered resentment and led to his likely exit. It’s the right move in that regard, a political play that justifies the extra money spent on a player who — while not on Durant’s level — is absolutely critical to everything the Thunder have built and a phenomenal player in his own right.”

Tom Ziller of SB Nation: “Here’s the problem: with just Durant and Westbrook alone, some $33.5 million in 2013-14 salary will be locked up. Kendrick Perkins is also due more than $8 million that season, and if Harden and Ibaka each demand their own Westbrookian contracts, the Thunder will be pressing up against the luxury tax line while accounting for just five players. It could force the Thunder to trade Westbrook to make room for Harden and Ibaka, or be willing to let go of either Harden (unlikely) or Ibaka. Alternately, the Thunder could wade headfirst into the luxury tax pool, should owner Clay Bennett decide that building a dynasty is more important than turning a profit in a small market.”

KD reacting to Westbrook’s extension: “Words can’t explain how happy I am for @russwest44, signing his new deal, just upset I found out about it on twitter smh lol love u bro.”

Berry Tramel: “And you wonder if this extension can only accelerate Westbrook’s improvement, which has been amazing in its own right. Westbrook never has seemed to be driven by money or security. He seems driven by never having been considered a star. Lightly recruited out of high school. Not one of the marquee players on his UCLA team. Doubted by many as an NBA point guard EVEN WHILE HE WAS PLAYING A MEAN GAME OF NBA POINT GUARD. If that dime-store analysis is correct, then Westbrook doesn’t figure to go soft.”

More Tramel: “The Selfish Westbrook Theory took a major hit with this contract. He could have gone somewhere and been the main man. Instead, he willingly signed on to stick with Butch Cassidy, and what a pair Durant and Westbrook make. Westbrook-to-Durant led all NBA tandems in assists-on-field goals.”

Marc Stein of ESPN.com gave some thoughts on SportsCenter.

Adrian Wojnarowski talking about it on NBC Sports Talk. He makes a great point: We’re all wondering about the long-term stuff with Ibaka and Harden, but the Thunder really have three guaranteed years with this core before any of that comes up. There’s time to win a title regardless of future contract scenarios.

Bomani Jones of SB Nation: “The general manager is hailed as a genius. The contracts he’s offered effectively make Westbrook and Durant indispensable. That leaves one major cog that can be replaced if the Thunder can’t get closer to a title soon: the head coach. Sounds like, if anyone’s on the clock, it’s Scott Brooks. The question is how long it’s going to take before people realize he should be. Brooks is a good coach. Oklahoma City got too successful too soon for that not to be the case. Is he a coach that can take a team to a championship? That seems more debatable than whether a team could win one with Russell Westbrook running the offense.”

A look at Westbrook against the Wizards.

From Elias: “The Thunder now have locked up 2 of the brightest and youngest stars in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Over their 4 seasons as teammates, this duo has scored 25 or more points each in the same game 36 times. No other teammates in NBA history have even had 25 games of each scoring 25 points before turning 24 years old.”

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