Russell Westbrook, Thunder Seal Historic Deal in Ultimate Show of Loyalty

Jon Hamm@@JonMHammOklahoma City Thunder Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2017

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is pictured during an NBA basketball media day in Oklahoma City, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is no place I'd rather be than Oklahoma City."

Those words, the opening sentence of Russell Westbrook's statement after signing a 5-year, $205 million extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, gave OKC fans an unexpected reason to celebrate on a September Friday night.

The extension kicks in after the 2017-18 season, meaning Westbrook made a six-year commitment to the team that drafted him in 2008.

Think about that. Westbrook—the Los Angeles native, the fashion icon, the league MVP, the player many assumed would escape the city as soon as possible—just signed two contract extensions in less than 14 months to remain in Oklahoma City.

At a grand total of six seasons and $233 million, it becomes the richest contract ever handed to an NBA player.

In hindsight, this shouldn't be a surprise at all. Westbrook has never wavered when asked about his commitment to OKC. "I love it here," the Thunder star said earlier in the week at media day. "I like where I'm at, and I like where our team is at."

It wasn't much different from his season-ending comments in April. "Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven't even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be."

"There is nowhere else I'd rather be than Oklahoma City. You guys have basically raised me," Westbrook said when he signed a three-year, $85 million extension last August. He added that loyalty was "something he stood by."

It's understandable if fans disregarded such words as hollow following the departure of Kevin Durant to Golden State. There's no reason for skepticism anymore. In Westbrook, the Thunder have found their Tim Duncan. Their Dirk Nowitzki. Their Kobe Bryant. Their—dare I say—Nick Collison.

They have a player who remained committed to the city and the organization through thick and thin, through success and failure.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - SEPTEMBER 25: Head coach Billy Donovan and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder pose for a portrait during 2017 NBA Media Day on September 25, 2017 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: U
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Conventional wisdom said Westbrook would play out the season with newcomers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony before deciding on his future. As one of the NBA's true superstars, he wielded the kind of power LeBron James has. He could have waited until the summer of 2018 and planned to sign a series of short-term deals with his parachute ready to deploy. And after watching two star players depart the 46th state in the past five years, he likely would have been given a pass, for the most part.

But none of that was what Westbrook wanted.

It's also crucial to mention that the loyalty here isn't one-sided. Believe it or not, the deal comes with uncertainty for Oklahoma City. It's possible that a 34-year-old Westbrook could earn over $46 million in 2022. There are legitimate concerns about how long his supernatural explosiveness can hold up, and if he never becomes a high-efficiency scorer, the Thunder may be stuck with a tough-to-trade shell of Brodie's former self.

There's also the risk that, despite re-signing Westbrook, both George and Anthony still leave in free agency next summer. At that point, OKC, now locked into the league's richest contract, rejoins the purgatory that is failing to compete with the NBA's upper echelon while never nearing a top-three pick.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - SEPTEMBER 25: Paul George #13, Russell Westbrook #0 and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder pose for a portrait during the 2017 NBA Media Day on September 25, 2017 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

The alternative, of course, was not having one of the Association's 1-percenters. That wasn't an option in the mind of Sam Presti and the rest of the Thunder staff.

In today's day and age of stars jumping ship, Westbrook and the Thunder are creating their own win-now destiny. They're not shying away from acquiring the help they need (see: Executive of the Year favorite, Presti), but there's a level of mutual trust that they can ultimately get it done together.

Naturally, attention will now shift to George and Anthony regarding their futures. It's impossible to know more since the trio hasn't played a single preseason game together, but there's one factor to keep in mind: finances.

Oklahoma City is on pace to pay around $30 million in luxury tax this season. It would trip the dreaded repeater tax next season, and as noted by Bobby Marks of ESPN, the Thunder could ring up over $140 million in tax alone if they re-signed George, brought back Anthony and also filled out the rest of the roster.

All that said, Oklahoma City's grand plan dating back to 2012 was to spend big while Durant and Westbrook were in their primes. With a new Big Three in place, the Thunder are basically back on track.

It's a cost of business not all franchises are willing to take on, but OKC is exactly where it wants to be—which is fitting since, as of Friday, Westbrook has made it clear it's exactly where he wants to be as well.

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