Russell Westbrook: The Roar Continues

Westbrook & Presti

Russell Westbrook has ended speculation about his playing future, recommitting to the Oklahoma City Thunder by signing a three year contract extension.

It’s been a tough month since the departure of Kevin Durant and the uncertainty surrounding Russ and the direction of the Thunder, but everything was put to rest when Westbrook walked through the adoring crowd outside Chesapeake Arena to sign his deal and discuss his future publicly. He appeared humbled by the attention he was receiving, was open and honest when discussing his decision and positive about the future direction of the franchise.

This was Westbrook’s first real moment in the spotlight as the undisputed leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder – and he did it with aplomb.

“I’m grateful to extend my contract with the Thunder and continue to play with the only organization that I have played for and loved playing for since being drafted into the NBA” – Russell Westbrook.

These words danced on the eardrums of Thunder fans like a Russ & Cameron Payne pre-game routine. Energising and engaging. For a passionate fan base still coming to terms with being scorned, this sentence (and a range of others from the press conference) allowed them to love again. Allowed them to believe that they had a voice and that they’re support and love hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Three weeks ago, I wrote a piece asking Russell Westbrook to be the hero that the Oklahoma City Thunder needed. Today, Russ answered that call and with this announcement, put the entire team, franchise, fan base and city on his back and said “Let’s Do This”. It’s a day that many Thunder fans will look upon favourably and the impact of the announcement wasn’t wasted on the wider community either with the Mayor of Oklahoma City proclaiming August 4th “Russell Westbrook Day”.

Westbrook crowd

He chose us. That’s the important part here. When KD left, the Thunder dropped well back in the race for an NBA Championship. The free agency pool had already dried up and the Thunder had to readjust their game plan to ensure their long term competitiveness and that was solely around Russell Westbrook. It was the focal point of this off-season and now it has paid off. By signing Westbrook to a contract extension, it doesn’t make OKC any better THIS season, it just means they don’t have to start the rebuilding process. Rather than finding a suitable trading partner for Russ, the Thunder have locked him in and can now start to focus their attention on building around him.

The Thunder have always struggled to lure free agents. That is why keeping Russ was a huge win for the small market franchise. They were able to retain the services of a top 5 talent and will now use Westbrook to help campaign for more talent to join him in OKC. It was a challenge that Russ mentioned during his press conference and clearly a responsibility he will welcome. That’s not to say Westbrook will be “in anyone’s ear ala Draymond Green and Kevin Durant” but he might just let his play do the talking. When speculation was rife that KD didn’t want to play with Russ (a fabricated sensationalist story that was nothing more than click bait) Enes Kanter came out in strong support of his point guard. People notice. Players notice. If you want someone beside you in the trenches – Russ is your guy.

Westbrook

The upcoming season is going to be very intriguing. Many experts have the Thunder dropping well down the food chain out West, even with Russ on board, citing the loss of Durant and the improvement of the conference competition. There is going to be some significant challenges without the former league MVP and four time scoring champion, but with change comes opportunity. The last time the Thunder were Durant-less, Westbrook put together and incredible season, almost willing the Thunder into the playoffs. This time around, he may have even more tools to utilise. Ibaka is also gone, but the Thunder arguably got deeper and with another year of Billy Donovan brilliance, something special could be on the cards. Victor Oladipo gives the Thunder the two-way guard they’ve been searching for and he has already commenced working out with Russ in Los Angeles as both players look to make the most of their super athletic abilities.

Time will tell just how effective Russell Westbrook can be as the numero uno and with a different supporting cast, but he certainly notched up his first win with Oklahoma City with this extension.

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