OKLAHOMA CITY — Less than three months away from the deadline, Russell Westbrook is yet to sign the five-year extension the Oklahoma City Thunder have offered him.
The extension would kick in for the 2018-19 season and would be the largest possible maximum contract a team could offer Westbrook, starting at 35 percent of the salary cap with eight percent raises in each of the four seasons beyond that. The most recent 2018-19 salary cap projection was $102 million — though that number can come down. The cap is $99.3 million this year. Either way, the proposed extension would likely earn Westbrook more than $200 million over five years on top of the $28.5 million he’s already owed in 2017-18.
The deadline for him to sign is the day before the regular season begins, Oct. 16.
No other team could offer the same deal if Westbrook were to hit free agency. He could still receive a contract that starts at 35 percent of the cap if he chooses to become a free agent next summer but would receive only five percent raises per season and could sign for up to only four years.
Yet, the reigning MVP has made the Thunder wait almost a month, already. And it could end up being longer — maybe forever, though the organization remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Westbrook signing for the long term before the start of the season.
The reasons for the Thunder’s optimism along with the ones for Westbrook making the organization wait are still unclear. Yet, they’re consistent with the past.
Westbrook waited a month last summer to sign an extension that was effectively for one season. And that was during a time when putting off re-signing tangibly affected the organization. The Thunder had to stay under the salary cap last summer to account for the raise in Westbrook’s 2016-17 salary after renegotiating it. Because of that, the team wasn’t able to bring in free agents and had to let former OKC guard Dion Waiters walk to the Miami Heat.
This year, Westbrook wouldn’t receive a raise on his upcoming salary. The only possible offer is merely an extension. There's renegotiation of money already on the books. So, the Thunder could operate normally. They weren’t financially strapped like they were last summer, when much of the talk was about the organization possibly having to deal Westbrook if he doesn’t re-sign.
Now, acquiring Paul George has blinded the fan base to that possibility. George’s presence has turned the upcoming season into a possible all-or-nothing opportunity for the Thunder. And Westbrook is still preparing for 2017-18 as if it were any other year in OKC.
He is still involved in team activities. As ESPN reported Wednesday, he’s organized workouts in Santa Monica, Calif., which began this week. Nearly the whole roster will be there, save for George (on vacation), Nick Collison (same) and the Spanish Alex Abrines (in Spain). Westbrook has more workouts scheduled for a later date in August, too.
The Thunder have done these workouts in the Los Angeles area, where Westbrook lives, annually. It’s more convenient than the average fan may realize considering much of the league lives out in Southern California during the summertime.
Yet, as of now, OKC players are practicing with someone who can become a free agent in 2018. For another offseason, the future is uncertain.
• Ferguson update: Westbrook isn’t the only Thunder player with contract questions. When Brooklyn Nets rookie Jarrett Allen inked last week, he left Terrance Ferguson as the only unsigned 2017 first-round pick. The Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 selection this past June.
It’s been barely more than a month since the NBA Draft. Yet, both the Thunder and Adelaide 36ers, Ferguson’s team in Australia, say Ferguson hasn’t signed because of trouble obtaining clearance from FIBA. And it’s far from common for clearance to take this long.
The Thunder struggled with a similar clearance issue when they agreed with backup point guard Norris Cole this past year. Cole was previously playing in China, and it took almost a week before he could obtain clearance from FIBA. Still, it’s been almost five times as long this time.
The specifics behind Ferguson obtaining clearance remain unclear. A standard buyout for someone in Ferguson’s situation is $650,000, and it would be counterintuitive for him to have signed a contract which complicated the possibility of a buyout since his plan all along was to head to the NBA after one year in Australia.
It remains likely Ferguson signs before the start of the season. Training camp doesn’t even begin for another two months. But there have been no public signs of progress thus far.