For all of the talk that Russell Westbrook would be on a new team some time before the end of the 2016-17 NBA season, the superstar point guard has committed to remaining with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the foreseeable future. Westbrook has agreed to a three-year contract extension worth a reported $85 million, forgoing free agency next year.
When Kevin Durant left the Thunder and signed with the Golden State Warriors, it was widely presumed that Westbrook’s days in Oklahoma City were numbered. The Thunder are no longer a title contender without Durant, and it only made sense that Westbrook would sign elsewhere after the final year of his contract, hoping to win a championship.
But the Thunder don’t have to worry about losing Westbrook for nothing. The recent news will end any trade rumors involving teams like the Boston Celtics, and there will be no more speculation about Westbrook signing with the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks next summer.
Westbrook is now Oklahoma City’s only star player, and he’ll lead a Thunder roster that has undergone a few major changes since they blew a 3-1 series lead and were eliminated from the Western Conference finals.
Westbrook has played alongside Durant for his entire career, but he did get a chance to lead Oklahoma City without the four-time scoring champ. A foot injury kept Durant out for two-thirds of the 2014-15 season, and Westbrook responded by leading the NBA in scoring, posting averages of 31.4 points, 9.9 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game after the All-Star break. He led the NBA with 18 triple-doubles last season, and he should blow past that number next year.
But Westbrook’s heroics weren’t enough to get the Thunder in the playoffs two years ago, and the team’s 45 wins were their lowest total in six years.
In the 2016-17 season, Westbrook will the best player on a Thunder team that is without Durant, as well as Serge Ibaka. On the day of the NBA draft, Oklahoma City sent Ibaka to the Orlando Magic in exchange for guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to forward Domantas Sabonis, who was taken No.11 overall out of Gonzaga.
Ibaka was consistently the third-best player on the Thunder, making the NBA All-Defensive First Team each year from 2012-2014. His production, however, has steadily declined over the past few years, and his averages of 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were his lowest totals in four seasons.
In Oladipo, the Thunder get the No.2 overall pick in the 2013 draft that averaged 16.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists last year. Oklahoma City also gets their replacement for Dion Waiters, who signed with the Miami Heat in the offseason.
Oladipo joins Westbrook in the starting backcourt, shifting Andre Roberson to small forward. Ilyasova will likely be Oklahoma City’s second new starter, and Steve Adams, who broke out in the playoffs by nearly averaging a double-double, will start at center.
It’s a starting lineup that can get the Thunder to the playoffs, but it’s not what the front office envisioned when they traded Ibaka on draft day. Oklahoma City was looking to re-sign Durant and pair him with free-agent Al Horford. Horford ultimately signed with the Celtics, though a frontline of Durant-Horford-Adams could have put Oklahoma City ahead of the Golden State Warriors as the favorites in the West.
Oklahoma City’s bench looks very much like it did a season ago, with the exception of Waiters’ departure. Enes Kanter, who averaged 12.7 points in just 21 minutes per game, signed a four-year contract last summer. Point guard Cameron Payne, small forward Kyle Singler and shooting guard Anthony Morrow will all return.
The Thunder drafted Spain’s Alex Abrines with the No.32 overall pick of the 2013 draft, and he’s finally ready to come to the United States, signing a three-year contract this summer. Oklahoma City selected Connecticut’s Daniel Hamilton with the No.56 overall pick in this year’s draft, acquiring the selection from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for cash.
Here’s a look at the Thunder’s current roster heading into training camp.
Russell Westbrook, PG
Victor Oladipo, SG
Andre Roberson, SF
Ersan Ilyasova, PF
Steven Adams, C
Cameron Payne, PG
Alex Abrines, SG
Daniel Hamilton, SG
Anthony Morrow, SG
Josh Huestis, SF
Kyle Singler, SF
Nick Collison, PF
Mitch McGary, PF
Domantas Sabonis, PF
Nazr Mohammed, C
Enes Kanter, C