Last week, Russell Westbrook chose to resign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In doing this, Westbrook did what few superstars have done in his generation; he showed patience. The deal, which weighs in at just over $85 million, locks Westbrook in until at least the end of the 2017-18 season. While it’s not the long-term deal many Thunder fans would be more comfortable with, it offers the organization some reassurance that Westbrook isn’t going anywhere. Additionally, it ends weeks of rampant speculation that Westbrook was considering other teams, and allows us all to slow down for a minute and stop daydreaming about potential trades that would bring him anywhere from the Celtics to the Nuggets (seriously. The Nuggets were even in it. You can’t make this stuff up). Instead, we can perform a post-contract autopsy and examine exactly how this affects the balance of the NBA.
With Westbrook resigning with Oklahoma City, we now have a bit more clarity on how things will look in the Western Conference. Obviously, it’s hard to make an argument against the Warriors, no matter how hard a revenge-fueled Westbrook will try to change that narrative. Golden State, however, is in a rare territory. There’s almost no way to preview how they will play, because we’ve never even seen an NBA roster of this magnitude. Sure, the Heat had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but even that is small potatoes compared to this Warriors squad. The only hope for the rest of the West is an epic collapse, or an unfortunate injury. That being said, there is a part of me that can see things derailing for Golden State. Is there such a thing as too much talent? When you can only play five guys at once and only one person can score each possession, that might be a valid question. Does it become ineffective to use that much firepower? That remains to be seen.
Westbrook will certainly come out guns-blazing against Golden State, and the Oklahoma City Thunder as a whole could be poised to have a better season than most would think. If you’re Thunder GM Sam Presti, you feel as though you’ve dodged a bullet. Instead of losing two star players in one offseason, you lose one and have two seasons to figure out what you want to do going forward. This coming season, we will learn a lot about Russell Westbrook both as a player and a leader. Many people are calling him the early favorite for MVP, but only time will tell. With the emergence of Steven Adams in the postseason and the newly acquired Victor Oladipo, Westbrook still has a respectable squad around him. It’s no title contender, but it’s also no group of misfits. Should the Thunder finish well in the Western Conference and pull together a playoff run, that would do wonders for them in acquiring free agents for the 2017-18 season. Blake Griffin is an early candidate, but this is all very far down the road. One thing, however, is sure about next season; Russell Westbrook is about to give the entire NBA a giant middle finger.