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The Thunder Need To Trade Russell Westbrook

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Yesterday, with the lone remaining star of the Oklahoma City Thunder signing a three-year deal worth $85 million, fans took to the streets rejoicing in Westbrook’s apparent loyalty and continued their misery over the departure of Kevin Durant. “The Thunder are back,” fans posted onto message boards around the globe. The true star in OKC is staying to win, and win they can do.

As recently as last week, Thunder fans and most NBA experts thought the Westbrook era was about to go the way of the VCR, with the capri-wearing, spotlight-fanatic likely on his way to a major market via trade or his 2017 option to opt out. Either way, the Durant dominoes seemed to have Sam Presti and the rest of the Thunder brass bent over a barrel with enough erection inducing substances to satisfy even Lamar Odom.

On the surface, things changed yesterday when the Thunder locked up Russ, some fans even predicting a “Thunder for life” scenario in which the new face of the beleaguered franchise played out his career in small town Oklahoma. I, with only 29 days to football, can’t help myself: not so fast my friend! Let’s take a look at the flip side of the coin.

Westbrook needs to be traded right now, before a single game of the season. Why? Because this deal is more of an optical illusion of longterm security for Thunder fans, instead a mutually beneficial arrangement between two parties looking to make the best of a shit sandwich served up fresh by Chef KD. Sure, the Thunder are still a four seed in the West with a lineup of Westbrook, Oladipo, Adams, Kanter, and Andre Roberson. They can still make it to the second round, where they will be met by the Spurs or Warriors. Not a great matchup.

In accepting this deal, Westbrook makes an extra $8 million this season and is guaranteed only one more year (at a higher salary) with a player option for the third year preserving maximum flexibility for Westbrook. Speaking of “maximum,” not coincidentally after the 2017/2018 season Westbrook will be a 10-year veteran, allowing him the largest max contract available under the current collective bargaining agreement. He would be insane not to opt out prior to the third year when he will be up for a deal worth upwards of $180 million instead of the $29 million remaining. In a league in which injuries happen every day, you do not risk $150 million for no apparent reason.

On the flip side, the Thunder now have a far more valuable trade asset. Instead of every team coming to the negotiating table knowing the Thunder had nothing but an eight-month timeshare on Westbrook’s services, and the risk of an early season injury erasing his value entirely, now Thunder execs can shop two full seasons of Westbrook guaranteed. That is a massive advantage to a mid-season trade before this extension, in which teams would be asked (and would likely refuse) to give up future building block players for a 50-game rental. The Thunder are in a stronger position to take back higher assets from a team knowing that Westbrook is in tow for this next two seasons.

Unless, of course, the plan is to go and get Blake Griffin in free agency next summer. If that’s the plan, then don’t trade Westbrook.

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