At one point in the last postseason, the future looked incredibly bright for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They had taken the best regular-season team in NBA history to a 3-1 series lead and looked to be on the cusp of their first championship for their incredibly young core, featuring Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But the wheels came off the wagon, and the Thunder would blow their 3-1 lead and fall to the Golden State Warriors, leaving OKC regrouping and focusing toward free agency, as the future of Durant was cast into doubt.
The organization never believed he’d leave in free agency, even as tumultuous as his relationship with Russell Westbrook had gotten. But in early-July, as free agency kicked up, Durant indeed stunned the basketball world and decided to join the Golden State Warriors, decimating the Thunder and throwing their dreams of NBA elite status into serious jeopardy.
Six things about Russell Westbrook’s contract.https://t.co/HkQHhQ4iIB
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) August 6, 2016
The rumors quickly began to swirl of uncertainty within the organization and questions over the future of Russell Westbrook. A prominent reporter stated quickly after the decision by Durant that Westbrook would sign in Los Angeles and would not consider re-signing with the Thunder. Then reports emerged that Westbrook had told the Thunder organization that he would not sign an extension, and would play the last year of his contract and test the free agent waters.
Of course, with every seemingly disgruntled star in the NBA, the trade rumors gathered momentum
Reports of Boston making a pitch to OKC, and with the advantageous narrative that OKC was looking to move Russ “sooner rather than later”, the NBA world was firmly convinced that Westbrook had played his last game in OKC – or at the very least it was to be short-lived. Pundits dubbed the Thunder a team in rebuilding mode, and the fate of the franchise was in question.
And yet, yesterday, the NBA world was met with startling news: Westbrook and Thunder officials had come to terms on a three-year, $85 million extension to keep the marquee man in OK. No more free agency wonders, no more trade rumors or questions of Russell’s commitment to the Thunder.
— theScore (@theScore) August 7, 2016
Now that the shock and awe of the decision has worn off, we are left with a new-look OKC team. So what is left?
This Thunder team looks like a stronger and more athletic version of the team we saw in 2014, the one where Durant missed the year due to injury. The Thunder have some interesting pieces, and a lot of young guys on the roster. They traded for Victor Oladipo, who will now seemingly take over as Russ’ second fiddle in a new offense.
But this team is weird on paper. They are sort of the antithesis to the Warriors: they’re huge and long, but can’t shoot very well. Make no mistake, this team will be the Russell Westbrook show – but how exactly is that going to look?
The Thunder are going to go big with either Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, or a mixture of Eryan Ilyasova. And with Andre Roberson and Oladipo complementing them, this team is going to struggle to spread the floor. There’s not a real thre- point shooter in that lineup, so expect to see teams load the paint and dare Russell and company to beat them from outside.
This is a key opportunity for Cameron Payne, the impressive rookie from a season ago, who is going to have to play well to complement Russ and also keep things moving when he sits down. This will be a pick-and-roll dominant team as well, as Adams and Westbrook are about to become very familiar with each other.
This OKC team has a ton of talent and athleticism, but they are wildly unproven outside of Westbrook and to a lesser extent Adams. The defense is going to have to be spectacular, as the offense is probably going to go through some rough droughts. But basketball aside, how amazing is it going to be to watch Westbrook do whatever he wants for 82 games?
Because this will be undeniably his team, and his town.
It’s Westbrook time in OKC. It may not be pretty, but man is it going to be exciting.
Is @russwest44 the early favorite for MVP next season?
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) August 7, 2016