Despite the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony over the summer, there was some unease around the Oklahoma City Thunder, as reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook had left a five-year, $205 million extension on the table for months. With all three All-Stars eligible for free agency in 2018, the possibility existed for a mass exodus just two years removed from Kevin Durant’s departure. That anxiety seems to have all been for naught, as Westbrook was either waiting to take the deal on Durant’s birthday, or it’s an awfully big coincidence that he agreed to the richest contract in NBA history on the same day the guy with whom he’s spent a season beefing was born 29 years ago.
Westbrook said in a statement: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there is no place I would rather be than Oklahoma City. I am so honored to have the opportunity to continue my career here with the Thunder. … When you play in Oklahoma City, you play in front of the best fans in the world, I’m looking forward to bringing everything I’ve got, for them, this city and for this organization.” Westbrook’s new contract, guarantees the six-time All-Star $233.5 million through 2022-23. The $205 million extension kicks in next summer, after his current deal pays him $28.5 million this season, and the final year of the contract includes a player option. Westbrook’s total contract exceeds the $228 commitment the Houston Rockets gave his former Thunder teammate James Harden through 2022-23 earlier this summer. Westbrook also just signed a new shoe deal for roughly $200 million, pushing his career earnings to nearly a half-billion dollars. Thunder GM Sam Presti made clear his intentions to offer Westbrook a max extension at midnight on July 1, but the explosive PG refused to answer questions about it on multiple occasions. Presti said in the press release: “Russell’s commitment to the Thunder organization since its inception in 2008 has helped propel us to great heights and stare down great challenges over our first decade. We are extremely fortunate to have an athlete, competitor and person such as Russell wear the Thunder uniform. To have him cement his legacy as a leader as we enter into our 10th season in Oklahoma City is extraordinary. I am extremely grateful to Russell, his family and to our ownership for the commitment and support that they have demonstrated in supporting our vision for the Thunder.” Vegas futures currently give OKC the second-best odds (behind San Antonio) to meet Golden State in the Western Conference finals. Speaking of riches, beefs and cupcakes, wouldn’t that be delectable?
As rumors swirled that then-Knicks president Phil Jackson was trying to trade Kristaps Porzingis during the week of the NBA Draft, the 7-foot-3 Latvian star posted a selfie on his Instagram story with the letters “fr” typed on it, which is considered shorthand for “for real.” Jackson acknowledged he was listening to offers for Porzingis, who skipped out on an exit meeting with Jackson at the end of the season.
Porzingis said: “That can only disturb your work at that moment. I was just trying to focus on the work. That’s something that’s not in my hands at that point anymore. I can’t affect it. That (Instagram) picture was random. It was random. It had nothing to do with it really. But I tried not to worry about it too much.” His brothers, including his agent Janis, attempted to keep his mind on his workouts: “(Janis is) the one informing about the stuff that’s going on or maybe keeping the information away from me so I don’t think about it too much. It’s more in their hands. They want me to focus 100 percent on what I’m doing at that moment. That was the mentality back home. I wasn’t worried about it too much.” An interesting offseason for Porzingis included an incident during a EuroBasket game with former Knick and Slovenian national team player Anthony Randolph, who hooked Porzingis’ arm and tried to toss him. Porzingis had reportedly said after that game earlier this month that Randolph was “playing dirty from the beginning”. Porzingis was more diplomatic about the incident Friday, saying Randolph wasn’t trying to provoke him: “He was just trying to play physical against me and that was it. Our arms got tangled. It happens. It happens in basketball. It’s the past already. It’s not really worth talking about. I wish him luck in the Spanish League.” Porzingis added: “Just being the leader of that team, having the ball in my hands all the time and having me be the guy that the offense goes through, that was very important for me to fill in that position. So I learned a lot. Even though it wasn’t NBA level, a lot of guys (at a) very high level, professional and the best leagues in Europe and it was a great experience for me.”
Despite knowing nothing serious happened to Porzingis, Jeff Hornacek said “obviously it’s a relief” that Porzingis was fine and back practicing. Porzingis said he bumped knees and as a precaution was pulled from the last 15 minutes of Thursday’s practice: “Today I felt good. It’s already getting better”.