Russell Westbrook's impending contract decision looms large in Oklahoma City

Russell Westbrook barely had a moment to breathe after the excitement and emotion of accepting his first Most Valuable Player award before a question came about his impending contract decision.

“Man, tonight is so important for me, and obviously with the contract and stuff coming up, it’s not really on my mind at the moment honestly,” Westbrook said after winning the award at the first annual NBA Awards Show. “I’m just overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of blessings I’ve been able to get to be able to get this award. Man, I’m just thinking about tonight, and then after that, I’ll move on.”

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Some 1,500 miles away, the reporter’s question still lingered in Oklahoma City: “Saturday you have a chance to sign a long-term extension and be with the city for a long time. Is that something you’ve thought about or are you ready to commit to stay with the Thunder for the long-term?”

Monday night marked the second time since the end of the season that the All-Star point guard has evaded questions about whether or not he will sign the so-called super-max extension this summer, which would pay him an additional $201 million and keep him in Oklahoma City through 2022-23.

“I haven’t thought about anything,” Westbrook told reporters at his exit interview in May, a day after his season ended in a first-round playoff loss to Houston. “Obviously, everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here. I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that.”

When Kevin Durant fled Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors last summer, Westbrook signed an extension that earned him $26.5 million this past season and will pay him $28.5 million in 2018-19.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City,” he said last August. “You guys basically, kinda raised me. I was 18, 19 years old, and you guys did nothing but great things for me. Through the good and the bad, you guys supported me overall, and through it all. And I appreciate it. Definitely, when I had the opportunity to be loyal to you guys, that’s the No. 1 option. Loyalty is something I stand by.”

He will have a chance to stand by it again on Saturday, when free agency opens and the Thunder offer him the new designated player veteran extension outlined in the NBA collective bargaining agreement signed in January. We know this, because Thunder GM Sam Presti essentially said as much in May.

Russell Westbrook accepted his NBA MVP award on Monday. Now what? (AP)

“The rules are that you can’t have that conversation until July 1, and you know, when that time comes, we’ll sit down, we’ll have conversations with him about what that opportunity presents,” Presti said as his team entered the offseason with little cap flexibility. “And you know, we’re obviously hopeful that he remains really excited about being a part of this organization for the remainder of his career.”

Signing a super-max extension would void Westbrook’s $30.5 million player option for 2018-19 and give him at least a $4 million raise in year one of a new five-year deal that would begin in 2018. Having drafted and “raised” Westbrook in Oklahoma City, the Thunder can offer him an extra year and roughly $50 million more over the life of a max contract than any other team can pay him next summer.

The Thunder are “hopeful” Westbrook will re-up, and so too are the MVP’s confidantes. Via ESPN:

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

Agreeing to terms as the clock strikes midnight on free agency would draw a collective sigh of relief from the Oklahoma City brass, who have only Steven Adams and Alex Abrines to show for losing Kevin Durant and James Harden from a 23-and-under core that reached the 2012 NBA Finals together. It would also allow them to begin rebuilding a roster built around two superstars to fit the only one left.

But — and it’s a big one — if for some reason Westbrook does not agree to accept the Thunder’s super-max offer, all hell will break loose in Oklahoma City. The one thing Presti cannot afford to do is lose a third future Hall of Famer in six years for little to nothing in return, so the Thunder GM would almost certainly have to begin shopping the reigning MVP as soon as Westbrook rejected the offer.

By signing the extension, Westbrook will have stayed true to all he has seemingly held so dear over the past year — loyalty above all else. He will also be placing his NBA future in the hands of Presti, who has a little less than half the team’s salary cap committed to Adams and Victor Oladipo through 2021. Westbrook will be giving up his freedom to pursue a title elsewhere until he is 34 years old.

With Durant’s Warriors now reigning as NBA champs for the foreseeable future, there is no easy path to victory, so Westbrook may be just fine playing underdog in OKC. It is that anti-KD approach that many came to love him for this season, one which resulted in an MVP and a first-round playoff exit.

Count Michael Jordan among those who believe Westbrook can machete his own championship path:


Whether that path will continue to run through Oklahoma City, we may know as soon as Saturday.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!