OKLAHOMA CITY -- With another summer of uncertainty on the horizon, Thunder general manager Sam Presti is "hopeful" the franchise can sign point guard Russell Westbrook to a new long-term extension.
"The rules are that you can't have that conversation until July 1, and you know, when that time comes, we'll sit down, we'll have conversations with him about what that opportunity presents," Presti said Monday at his end-of-season availability. "And you know, we're obviously hopeful that he remains really excited about being a part of this organization for the remainder of his career."
Because of changes in the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, Westbrook will be eligible for a Designated Player Extension -- a five-year "supermax" deal worth more than $200 million that will make him the highest-paid player in league history. Last summer, Westbrook signed a three-year, $85 million extension with the Thunder one month to the day after All-Star Kevin Durant departed for the Golden State Warriors.
Westbrook has a player option on the final year of that contract, though, enabling him to enter unrestricted free agency next summer. Should he turn down the Thunder's extension offer this summer, alarm bells will sound and the franchise will have to look at other options, which would include trading the potential MVP winner. That is a move, however, Presti said he hasn't considered.
"Let's not think so far ahead," Presti said. "Let's just see where the information takes us. I understand the question. I think the biggest thing is, we had that conversation with Russell last year, and you know, he was really clear, and it worked itself out. So before we get all the way down the road on what if, what if this happens, what if that happens: Again, that's one of those things where we're talking about a very complex question, a very complex situation with a lot of moving parts, and looking for, like, a simple answer to that."
"So let's just have the conversation, see where it goes," Presti added. "I think everybody knows how we feel about him. He's a transcendent player. I think he's a futuristic player. I think he's a tremendous competitor, and we're fortunate to have him. We'll have a conversation, and hopefully it goes our way."
The feeling from most around the organization, as well as Westbrook, was the extension last summer was as much a public declaration of his commitment to the franchise as it was about signing a more financially lucrative deal. Westbrook said last week he hasn't thought much about a new contract, but he noted, "Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be."
After signing the extension last summer, Westbrook said, "There's nowhere else I would rather be than Oklahoma City. Definitely when I had the opportunity to be able to be loyal to you guys, that's the No. 1 option. Loyalty is something that I stand by."
Westbrook's contract will be the Thunder's primary offseason focus, defining which direction their summer plans will go. With a renewed commitment from Westbrook, the Thunder would look to refine the roster around his strengths -- and possibly looking to land a big name to pair with him. But without one, they'll head into unknown waters, with the likelihood of looking to trade to avoid another franchise player walking in free agency for nothing in return.
The new Designated Player Extension is a potential blessing for the Thunder, and something that could've been helpful in re-signing Durant in the past.
"I think it is a good thing for the league, right. I think it's important for franchises, especially outside of a handful, to be able to have the opportunity to keep their best players," Presti said. "That's probably healthy. If you're serious about having like a competitive balance and serious about lauding sustainability and things of that nature, like then the rules need to kind of align with that. Unfortunately the last CBA, they didn't, and this CBA, they did. You know, I think it's positive that those things are in place for a lot of cities."
A considerably damaging element to the Thunder last summer was the salary-cap spike that was driven by an influx of the new television deal. The Thunder were proponents of a "smoothing" process, but without it, a team like the Warriors suddenly had max-level cap space and the ability to add a star like Durant. Asked about the desire to find a quick fix and secondary star to pair with Westbrook, Presti took a subtle jab at the league.
"The first thing I'm going to do is go back to the office and call Adam Silver and see if he can arrange one of those cap spikes," Presti said. "I'm learning those things tend to come in handy."