Russell Westbrook has yet to sign the five-year, $207-million so-called super-max extension that the Oklahoma City Thunder offered him as soon as free agency opened in July, but he did just sign a 10-year extension with Nike that will make him the richest Jordan Brand athlete not named Michael.
Does one have anything to do with the other? Both should make the Oklahoma City Thunder nervous.
Westbrook’s new Jordan Brand deal is retroactive to his MVP campaign and runs through the 2025-26 season, according to ESPN’s Nick DePaula. He will be 37 years old when his new shoe contract runs out, presumably no longer the explosive supernova he’s become. This is his security blanket.
The exact figure of the shoe deal has gone unreported, but former Jordan Brand athlete Dwyane Wade reportedly made more than $10 million annually before leaving Nike in 2012, and Westbrook’s ex-teammates James Harden and Kevin Durant make $14 million and $25 million per year from Adidas and Nike, respectively. It’s safe to assume Westbrook’s contract falls somewhere between those two figures, given the company’s desire to make him “the face for the Air Jordan game shoe,” per DePaula.
And then there’s Jordan’s effusive praise of Westbrook at his recent Oklahoma Hall of Fame induction:
“Every time I played the game of basketball, when I stepped onto that floor, I always felt like there was someone there that never saw me play the game of basketball, and that motivated me every single night. This kid has the same passion, and you can’t get that.”
What I mean to say here is this: Russell Westbrook, who has already made $102.7 million as a player to date, not to mention other endorsement deals, probably just doubled his career earnings, and suddenly the $53.5 million discrepancy between a super-max extension from OKC and the four-year, $153.5 million deal he could command as a free agent next summer isn’t all that difference-making.
Thunder GM Sam Presti lived up to his promise to present Westbrook with a super-max extension on July 1, telling reporters, “I wouldn’t really say that one’s a negotiation,” because the organization has offered their franchise player everything they can and the team is merely waiting on his answer.
Westbrook evaded questions about his contract situation both at his exit interview in late April and after receiving his MVP trophy at the first annual NBA Awards Show two months later, respectively saying, “I haven’t even thought about that,” and, “It’s not really on my mind at the moment honestly.”
Throughout, Westbrook has suggested, “Oklahoma City is the place that I want to be,” but he’s now had two more months to consider his future, and the super-max extension remains unsigned. In mid-July, sourced reports indicated the Thunder were still “cautiously optimistic” Westbrook would sign before the mid-October deadline, but that caution evolved into “anxiety” by the end of August.
Last summer, when Westbrook signed a three-year, $86 million extension with an option for the third season and the concept of a super-max extension didn’t even exist, he told reporters, “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City,” and, “Loyalty is something I stand by,” before adding, “There’s no need to wait if you know where you want to be.” It was a defiant stance following Durant’s departure to the Golden State Warriors, and one that indicated he might actually be a Thunder lifer.
That could still be the case even if he doesn’t sign an extension by Oct. 16. He could agree to the same deal next summer, or, as a 10-year veteran, he could sign for 35 percent of the salary cap for any length of time. A two- or three-year contract would put him in line for another massive payday in his early 30s, whereas the max extension keeps him under contract through 2023, when he will turn 35.
It’s a question of Westbrook maximizing his earning potential or valuing longterm security, and a shoe deal that could fetch somewhere around $200 million alleviates pressure on the latter. The problem for OKC is the risk that Westbrook can sign the same shorter-term deals with any team next summer.
His hometown Los Angeles Lakers, for instance, can create enough cap space to offer two max contracts next summer. Like, say, some combination of LeBron James, Paul George and Westbrook.
While “various NBA executives believe Westbrook will eventually sign his deal with the Thunder,” per a report from Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus earlier this month, “whispers around the NBA suggest James would love to team up with the explosive guard.” So, take this recent Instagram photo at face value:
The Thunder made significant upgrades this summer, adding George and Patrick Patterson to a team that won 47 games last season, thanks in large part to Westbrook’s triple-double campaign. They should be a real threat in the West this season, and even George, who has been open about his L.A. interest next summer, conceded to Sports Illustrated, “If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
It’s hard to imagine Westbrook feeling any differently. Still, the Thunder are running the risk of losing both Westbrook and George next summer if the former doesn’t sign his extension in the next month. That would completely decimate the franchise, and that has to scare the hell out of OKC’s front office.
I’m not saying this would happen, but can you imagine a scenario in which Westbrook and George enjoy playing together this season, but realize OKC’s ceiling is too low, and then are tempted by the thought of playing together in their hometown with the young corps of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle on a Lakers team that will always be a destination for other talented free agents?
That is the Thunder’s nightmare. Even if Westbrook were to give them every indication he plans to re-sign next summer, the remote possibility of him following Durant out the door has to be enough to scare Presti into at least considering the idea of trading Westbrook and George this season. That is the level of uncertainty that shrouds Oklahoma City as Westbrook’s indecision fills the air with doubt.
James Harden and Stephen Curry accepted super-max extensions before the NBA’s moratorium even ended in July. They too recently signed massive shoe deals. If OKC is truly where Westbrook wants to be, he could sign the richest deal in league history today and settle into that Thunder life, but his record-breaking Jordan Brand contract might have just made him equally comfortable elsewhere.
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