Russell Westbrook ended any speculation about his future in Oklahoma City by signing a contract paying him $85.7 million over the next three seasons, bypassing an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Exactly one month after Kevin Durant departed for Golden State, the Thunder convinced its other franchise centerpiece to remain with the team.
“There is nowhere else I would rather be,” Westbrook said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “I felt like this is the best place and the best team. This is where I wanted to be.”
After winning his first career scoring crown in 2015, as Durant was limited to just 27 games after undergoing three surgeries to repair his right foot during the 2014-15 season, Westbrook demonstrated he can do much more than score the ball.
Westbrook’s scoring dropped, going from 28.1 points to 23.5 points per game with Durant back in the lineup full time, but he secured a nomination to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career by dominating in seemingly every category.
The five-time All-Star led the NBA in triple-doubles, posting 18, a figure only Magic Johnson could match during the past 30 years, as he posted 23.5 points, 10.4 assists, 7.8 rebound and 2.0 steals per game.
Westbrook even added one more during the playoffs, totaling 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists during Game 4 of the 2016 Western Conference finals, the last victory Oklahoma City registered on the year.
Following the Warriors epic comeback, as the team erased a 3-1 series deficit to advance to the NBA Finals, Oklahoma City underwent dramatic changes, dealing away Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis.
Four days after the start of free agency, Durant announced his intentions of leaving the Thunder to join Golden State, immediately igniting speculation around the future of Westbrook.
Trade rumors began to swirl, with Boston emerging as a potential destination because of the young talent and numerous future draft picks the team had acquired over the past few years.
Aside from Westbrook, only Nick Collison player remaining from the Thunder’s march to the NBA Finals in 2012, leading may to believe Oklahoma City would trade the talented point guard instead of taking the risk to lose him in free agency next summer.
Westbrook put to rest any notions of his intent to leave the organization that selected him with the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft Thursday afternoon.
“There’s no need to wait if you know where you want to be. There’s no need to waste time,” Westbrook said. “There was no reason to go back and forth and create all this hoopla.”
The 6-foot-3 guard ranked second in the NBA in assists (10.4 per game), second in steals (162), led all guards in rebounds (7.8) and only Detroit center Andre Drummond managed to post more double-doubles than the 54 Westbrook totaled last season.
The former UCLA guard has established himself as the best rebounding guard in the NBA. Last season only four guards (Westbrook, James Harden, Nicolas Batum and Rajon Rondo) averaged over six rebounds per game, with Westbrook pulling down 1.7 more a night than his nearest competitor.
Westbrook has led all point guards in rebounding five times in the past six seasons, with his 7.8 last season marking a career-high.
Rondo was the only player to dish out more assists than the 10.4 Westbrook averaged last season, but repeating the lofty total may be a challenge.
Durant was the recipient to 35.4 percent of the passes Westbrook threw last season, while Ibaka ranked third on the team as he caught 16.9 percent.
The duo accounted for 5.7 assists a night from Westbrook, over half his total.
The Thunder will give Westbrook as many passes, or shot attempts, he wants next season as he has emerged as the clear centerpiece for the franchise, a role Westbrook believes he is well suited to hold.
The Thunder apparently agree, by signing Westbrook to a deal paying him $28.6 million a year, the third highest annual salary behind only Memphis guard Mike Conley and Harden, another former teammate.
“My job now is to worry about what’s in front of me … how we can improve as a team,” Westbrook said. “There’s no play I’d rather be than Oklahoma City.”