Howard Beck: Thunder Could Trade Westbrook Before Opening Night

With Kevin Durant bolting Oklahoma City, it seems inevitable that Russell Westbrook, if given the opportunity, would do the same. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017, but Thunder general manager Sam Presti can’t let him get there.

Not if he thinks Westbrook wants to leave Oklahoma City, that is.

“Well, (it) depends on what he knows about Russell Westbrook’s intentions,” Bleacher Report NBA writer Howard Beck said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “We’re in an age where the rules and the spiking cap – a variety of things – have made extensions almost obsolete for veterans. So they could try to extend Westbrook, but there’s no point to it. He’s going to be a free agent in 2017 with the cap spiking again. It makes more sense for him financially and otherwise to wait until next summer, even if he wants to stay. So what Sam Presti has to find out from Russell Westbrook and his people is does he have a strong desire to stay in Oklahoma and be the face of the franchise and have the team rebuilt around him? Or does he have an inkling or aching to go somewhere else? Does he feel like he needs to explore other options? You don’t trade him just because you’re worried about him being a free agent. You trade him because you’re worried about him being a free agent and him wanting to leave. Free agency doesn’t necessarily mean departure.”

But in Durant’s case, it did. And if it meant departure for Durant, you have to wonder about Westbrook, a California native who played college ball at UCLA and is as much of a brand as he is a basketball player.

Can Oklahoma City offer Westbrook enough on and off the court to keep him happy? That’s highly debatable.

“Knowing Sam Presti and his track record, I would say this,” Beck said. “If he’s not confident that Westbrook wants to be there long-term, if he thinks that there’s a good chance that he would walk away, I think the trade happens before opening night, not at the trade deadline. He traded James Harden, I think it was in October, when those contract negotiations broke down and they decided they didn’t want to pay him the max. They tend to get out ahead of things. They traded Serge Ibaka on draft night with him going into a contract year. You could always make the case that you should wait, but when you wait, now a guy’s on an expiring deal with only a couple of months left. Now he looks like he might be a rental. You could almost say you’re trying to auction him off to the highest bidder at that point. But I think in this case, if Westbrook is going to be traded, they’re better off doing it before training camp.”

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