Russell Westbrook Looks to Lead Thunder Into a New Era
We can finally get rid of all the speculating about Oklahoma City’s near future thanks to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook agreed to a maximum level extension with the team on August 4, after the Thunder rescinded their offer to Dion Waiters in order to make space for the max offer.
After Kevin Durant’s shocking departure to the Golden State Warriors , the focus immediately shifted to Westbrook and whether he would stay in OKC or leave in his free agency, which was set to take place after the upcoming season. All of that can be put to rest, as Westbrook seems like he wants to stay with the Thunder for the foreseeable future.
Westbrook will now be asked to lead the Thunder into a new era of basketball, taking the floor for the first time without Durant after 8 years together. It will certainly be a new challenge for Westbrook, but the pieces are there for the Thunder to build a championship squad around him in the future. It is highly unlikely that the Thunder pose a serious threat to win the Finals without Durant next season, but GM Sam Presti has a history of drafting the right players (Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, etc.), give him a couple of seasons and the Thunder might just land their missing piece, which right now, is another scoring option at small forward.
Even with Westbrook, the Thunder will take a step, if not two, backwards next season. Losing a top-three player in Durant doesn’t come without consequences, no matter how good the team is. The additions of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis give the Thunder youth and depth on both ends of the floor. The combo of Westbrook and Oladipo might just be the most athletic backcourt in the history of the NBA, and Sabonis fits perfectly with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter up front with his mean streak and physical play. The Thunder’s athleticism and size could give teams like the Warriors and Cavaliers trouble, despite OKC’s lack of offensive firepower.
It is important for the Thunder and their fans to remember that there isn’t going to be a shortcut back to the Finals. They had their chance last year and failed to close out the Warriors on three different occasions. With Durant gone, it will be a long and arduous road back to the upper echelon of the NBA’s elite. But with Westbrook locked up, the road will be just a little bit smoother.