Los Angeles Lakers fans across the world shed a little tear once the news broke of Russell Westbrook’s contract extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Once Kevin Durant left OKC to go to Golden State, many assumed Westbrook would leave town soon as well. At the very least Westbrook was set to hit free agency in 2017 and the Lakers could court him then, but many others held out hope that the Lakers would swing a trade. The thought was that with no assurances he would re-sign, the Thunder would be forced to move Westbrook rather than risk losing him for nothing.
Nonetheless, Westbrook re-negotiated his deal, bumping himself up to max money this season and next. A player option for year three allows Westbrook to opt-out in 2018, when he will have hit 10 years of NBA service and be able to command 35 percent of the salary cap.
The deal is great for Westbrook as it allows him to maximize his earnings, and Oklahoma City avoids losing another star. But despite what seems like a loss for the Lakers (and Enes Kanter’s trolling), this is a blessing in disguise.
First off, this allows the Lakers to not blow up their young core before it has a chance to develop, which would be required in order to trade for Westbrook.
Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., and Ivica Zubac have all shown serious flashes of potential. Outside of possibly Minnesota, there isn’t a team in the NBA with a better young core than these Lakers and that would have been gone in any trade for Westbrook.
Most believed that any Westbrook deal would have to start with Russell and Ingram and that is a lot to give up for someone who may or may not re-sign. Trevor Lane already outlined all of the risks involved in trading for Westbrook so I won’t go in-depth, but lets just say that removing the trade option for the Lakers isn’t a bad thing.
Of course, Westbrook’s extension also moves him off the free agency market in 2017, but why is that a bad thing for the Lakers? Lets be serious folks, trusting that any big name player would willingly sign with the Lakers right now is foolish.
The prevailing theme over the past couple of years when it comes to free agency is that the big name guys are going to places where they can win quickly and that is not the Lakers right now. Here’s another newsflash: That almost definitely won’t change by the summer of 2017.
The Lakers jumping from 17 wins to a team where someone like Westbrook believes could win a championship in only one year is nearly impossible. Just like Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Durant before him, Westbrook probably would have looked at the Lakers as a team that just isn’t close enough to championship contention.
But two years from now? That’s a whole different story.
Russell might be an All-Star in two years. Randle could be one of the league leaders in double-doubles. Clarkson could be a 20 point per game scorer. Ingram could be looking like the next Durant that so many people see him as.
The Lakers may struggle to win 30 games next season, but in two years the team could be around .500 and flirting with the playoffs. A competitor like Westbrook could see a team in that position, with so much young talent that is so close to getting over the hump and believe he is the piece that will take them to another level.
Westbrook does seem like a very loyal person and he could very well want to remain in Oklahoma City beyond 2018. This contract also gives the Thunder two years to try and put a new team around Westbrook that can compete for a title and who knows how that will go.
But when it comes to the Los Angeles, if Westbrook is the guy you want, you want the Lakers to be close to contention and that is far more likely in 2018 than 2017.