OKLAHOMA CITY — With another summer of uncertainty ahead for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook eased concerns about his future with the franchise in the team’s annual exit interviews Wednesday.
Because of changes in the new collective bargaining agreement, Westbrook, who signed a three-year extension worth $80 million last summer, is eligible for another extension this summer — which could be worth as much as $220 million over five years. It would make Westbrook the highest-paid player in the NBA.
“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”
Westbrook noted that he’s expecting his first child in May, and that’s where his focus is right now. Asked whether there’s a timetable on his decision about a potential extension, Westbrook lightheartedly jabbed back.
“No. What did I just say? Like you don’t care about my baby?” he said. “You must not. You didn’t hear that part, huh?”
With further stability at stake, the Thunder will offer Westbrook the extension this summer. Should he decline it, it would sound alarms within the organization: He would have only one guaranteed season remaining with the Thunder, as he has a player option for 2018-19.
All signs point to Westbrook re-upping with the Thunder, as his move to sign an extension last summer was seen as much as a public display of commitment as it was a sound financial move.
Westbrook went on to produce a historic season, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 — and only second ever — to average a triple-double. Westbrook also passed Robertson’s record of triple-doubles in a season, securing 42 total.
“I’ve never even thought about any of those things happening, being inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, having Michael Jordan come and speak and induct me,” Westbrook said. “That’s something that you could never dream of.
“And obviously having Oscar here — Hall of Fame player. And to have him here in Oklahoma City is not just great for me, but I think it’s great for the people here in Oklahoma City. … I think it’s just an unbelievable honor and it’s something that I never dreamed about, and very, very thankful for.”
“Just each day, just making sure that I came in and wasn’t making it about me,” Westbrook said. “Obviously with me playing and people understanding that I’m the leader from the outside looking in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a leader. And I truly believe that. I think there’s a lot of guys that people just give them the leader [label] because they’re the best player, and that is not how it worked for me.
“I think you have to earn the right for people to say that you’re a leader, regardless of how many numbers you put up, how many points … whatever it is that you’re doing. I think you have to show leadership. And I think for me, that’s what I was trying to do every single day — to be able to show the guys that I care about them as a person more than a player, and also want them to improve as a player as well.”
It was a season of adjustments, and Westbrook will enter the summer with more to prepare for. But the biggest thing Westbrook is going to have to add to his game will be diaper changing — a challenge he’s ready to take on.
“You know what,” he said with a laugh, “I’m going to learn.”