Russell Westbrook signed the largest contract extension in NBA history this afternoon, which means the Oklahoma City Thunder can finally exhale. The league's reigning Most Valuable Player, a two-time scoring champion who's coming off an unprecedented year in which—in case you haven't heard—he averaged a triple-double, will now likely remain with the same organization for his whole first-ballot-Hall-of-Fame career.
It's a wonderful outcome for everyone involved. Westbrook gets long-term security (and an insane amount of money on top of his recent 10-year pact with Jordan Brand) while the Thunder don't have to worry about him leaving for greener pasture this summer, when Paul George and Carmelo Anthony can also become unrestricted free agents.
Small-market organizations crave stability above everything else. They're rarely sturdy enough to survive a volatile marketplace, and a variety of factors are making it harder to rebuild on the fly—including the NBA's recent lottery reform, which OKC was the only team to vote against.
If Westbrook departed, and the Thunder fell to the bottom, there's a decent chance they might stay there for a very, very long time. And with fans who don't know what prolonged failure feels like, it's fair to wonder if professional basketball in Oklahoma would even exist a decade from now .
But, of course, Westbrook signed the extension. And now the franchise's future is moored to Westbrook's animatronic hustle. He's a generational figure, and even if the Thunder landed three straight top-three picks in the draft, it's far from certain they'd find someone as dominant and relentless as he's proven to be.
If Paul George opts out of his deal and re-signs a five-year max contract with the Thunder this summer, people will look back at today as the franchise's momentous turning point. Westbrook's faith in general manger Sam Presti may just incentivize George to stick around. And in doing so, other stars around the league may be interested in ways they weren't three or four years ago.
In case it isn't clear, the Thunder had no choice but to offer Westbrook this deal and they should be over the moon he signed it. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of pressure on this year's team to perform for the sake of the organization's long-term health. If they disappoint and George walks, the Thunder will likely spend the next few years floating through mediocrity, a re-run of their carnivalesque 2016-17 campaign.
This extension is a lot of money over many years and Westbrook's best days may be in the rearview mirror. He'll earn about $38.1 million alone during his age 31 season, the second year of the new contract. It doesn't expire until he turns 34. Things could get very ugly on the back end, as his physical advantages decline and his price tag goes up.
FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO Projections don't have Westbrook falling completely off the map, but his game isn't expected to age well, either. Despite making a career-high 34.3 percent of his threes on 7.2 attempts per game last season, he's not a particularly accurate outside shooter, which cuts into how he can ultimately complement those around him within the confines of a muddy playoff series.
He's very eliant on his unparalleled athleticism, and, considering the fact that he's had multiple surgeries and procedures throughout his career (most recently a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee that's kept him out of training camp), health should be a concern.
On top of all that, the timing here isn't great. Locking Westbrook up while the Golden State Warriors sit on top of the basketball universe is unfortunate if Oklahoma City's goal is to win a championship during their franchise player's prime. Several teams around the league have opted to compete in the future instead of the present, and while Golden State's dominance shouldn't behoove the Thunder (or anybody else) to hit the rest button, now is as good a time in NBA history to start over.
Oklahoma City's financial situation is another topic worth discussing. How will the once-fickle Clay Bennett treat the luxury tax going forward? Even though this team didn't report a loss last year, they've paid into the revenue sharing system going on six consecutive seasons, according to ESPN. If they stay above the tax this year, they'll face harsh repeater tax penalties in 2018-19, and competing from here on out with the Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Lakers (organizations that print money) won't be cheap.
But if that's the cost of having Russell Westbrook, well that's the cost of having Russell Westbrook. Anything can happen when you have a top-six player. Steph Curry could tear his ACL tomorrow and Kevin Durant could decide he really loves Magic Johnson and wants to play in L.A. in 2019 leaving the Thunder as the league's top team. The NBA, by nature, is highly unpredictable.
With Westbrook in the fold for the long haul, life is much more predictable, and that's exactly how Oklahoma City wants it to be.