Westbrook extension brings end to perceived friction with OKC stars
So much for that Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook feud.
When Thunder GM Sam Presti signed the dynamic guard to an extension that sources say is for a maximum five years and $80 million, he effectively put an end to the talk of friction over money between the two stars. He made sure the Oklahoma City duo would not be this generation's version of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
The perception that there was hostility between the Thunder stars was only relevant because Durant had already signed a max deal last summer and Westbrook's future was uncertain. There were rumblings that the Los Angeles native who has flourished in Durant's shadow yearned to be the alpha male in a big city, and that anything less than a max offer would have fostered resentment and led to his likely exit. It's the right move in that regard, a political play that justifies the extra money spent on a player who -- while not on Durant's level -- is absolutely critical to everything the Thunder have built and a phenomenal player in his own right.
As for any lingering queries about whether the alleged beef between the two players was real or perceived, it's just not that simple. Westbrook is a fiery competitor who doesn't see himself as second to anyone, as evidenced by his summer workouts in Los Angeles with reigning MVP Derrick Rose, in which he went tit for tat every day. He plays with an edge -- one that has been known to nick his teammates every so often.
We all heard about it on Dec. 29, when the Durant-Westbrook storyline that dogged the Thunder during last year's playoffs came up again just five days into the season. But three things were lost in all the talk about the Thunder stars bickering on the bench: 1. Westbrook shouting at Thabo Sefolosha to take an open shot, expletives and all, is the sort of thing that can be found on any NBA court on any night; 2. a source close to the team said Westbrook's fury was aimed at center Kendrick Perkins more than Durant or anyone else, and Durant's involvement came when his peacemaking attempts simply didn't work; 3) they won.
"Winning cures all" is one of those clichés that became one because it's true, and the Thunder -- which now have Westbrook under contract through 2016-17 and Durant through 2015-16 -- are set up to do a whole lot of that in the years to come.
Westbrook could have made life harder on Presti, deciding to play this season out and potentially push for a five-year, $94 million deal like Rose was recently given so long as the he was deemed All-NBA or an All-Star for a second time. It's part of the league's new "Rose rule" that allows a max deal to account for 30 percent of the salary cap as opposed to 25 percent, like Westbrook's deal.
There is more work to be done for Presti, as the contracts of guard James Harden and forward Serge Ibaka (both signed through 2013) now move up on his list of priorities. But it all gets easier with Durant and Westbrook re-signed and on the same pay scale, and this too-good-to-be-true Thunder team that fell to Dallas in the Western Conference finals last May is in an even better place than before because of it.