Some rumors take on a life of their own even if there isn’t much meat to them. The Russell Westbrook/Lakers speculation would qualify as this type of rumor. With Westbrook’s pending free agency next summer, the Lakers working the CBA to create max cap space next summer while also maintaining flexibility right now, Kevin Durant’s recent departure, and Westbrook being from LA, there were a lot of dots being connected even if there were never any reports of discussions between the Lakers and Thunder.
Those rumors, though, can now be put to rest as Westbrook is on the verge of signing an extension to stay in OKC for at least the next two seasons and maybe the next three:
Sources: Russell Westbrook is flying to Oklahoma City on Thursday morning, planning to sign a three-year, $85M-plus contract renegotiation.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) August 4, 2016
For you CBA wonks, Westbrook is taking advantage of the clause in the CBA which allows for a team with cap space to give a player a raise and then use that increased salary as the base amount for an extension. In other words, Westbrook is getting a fat increase in salary now with the trade off being he delays any free agency decision by at least another season — in this case, Westbrook will have a player option which, if exercised, would make him a free agent again in the summer of 2018.
So, Westbrook is off the market. Well, for now at least. This move won’t completely silence all speculation on Westbrook’s future in OKC, but it should quiet it for now. If the team underperforms in the first half of the season, those talks can always crop back up, but for now — and theoretically for the next couple of seasons — Westbrook is a member of the Thunder.
In this space, that means no more talk of him being traded to the Lakers; of him no longer being a free agent target next summer. The latter is a bit of a blow to the Lakers, but also gives them bit more of a clearer perspective of their short term options and in planning for free agency next summer. It means they can more fully commit to their young players (if they weren’t already — which I think they were anyway) and start to build the culture and environment which helps accelerate the growth of their core.
Whatever your thoughts on Westbrook were/are, this is a good thing for the Lakers. Regardless of how much they have improved in the past several months, they were not one player away from being a team that could make a deep playoff run. Getting a top 5 player in his prime is never a bad thing, but getting him by gutting the roster of its young talent was never going to be a good idea. The Lakers no longer have to worry about such things and can now instead focus on internal improvement.
There are no shortcuts to building a winner. My guess is that the Lakers understand that. But even if they didn’t, the guy who would most represent that type of gamble is no longer available. Which is probably for the best for everyone.