The Oklahoma City Thunder have decided to hand the point guard duties to Russell Westbrook for a quite some time, as the club reached a long-term deal with the young star.
Westbrook, who is averaging 20.5 points and 5.5 assists per game for the 12-3 Thunder, signed a max contract extension worth $80 million over five years on Wednesday. The move locks up both he and forward Kevin Durant, who signed a five-year, $89 million max contract extension in July 2010 until the 2016-17 NBA season.
According to Sports Illustrated, Westbrook was actually eligible for a bigger max deal because of the new collective bargaining agreement's Derrick Rose Rule, which stipulates that a player win an MVP award, make two All-NBA teams, or start two All-Star games throughout his four-year rookie contract in order to receive an annual salary worth 30 percent of the salary cap. Westbrook receiving such a salary, though, would take effect next season and would have been contingent on what stipulation under the Rose rule he achieved this year, since he is currently in the last year of his rookie deal.
Westbrook denied that money, which could mean that valuable contributrors like James Harden and Serge Ibaka might stick around.
Sporting News reported that Harden, who is among the Thunder's best scorers, and Ibaka, who acts as a defensive anchor alongside Kendrick Perkins, are eligible for early extensions as of July 1, although those contracts wouldn't take effect until the 2013-14 NBA season. Should Oklahoma City not sign Harden and Ibaka by October, they would become restricted free agents in July 2013.
Westbrook basically taking less money means that Harden, Ibaka, or perhaps some new faces, will be key to the club's long-term strategy.
With both Durant and Westbrook signed to maximum deals, the Thunder appear to have their nucleus in place. Though there may have been friction between the two players, the Thunder upper-management apparently feels that the differences will work themselves out, if they haven't already.
The Thunder are current contenders to win a title, and might be a force for years to come.