OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A month after Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State, star guard Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension to stay in Oklahoma City.
The team confirmed Thursday that Westbrook signed the extension. A person with direct knowledge of the terms said the two sides agreed on a new three-year deal worth $85.7 million. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not release terms.
After the announcement, the team feted Westbrook on Thursday afternoon during an event that was part pep rally and part press conference. He exited a vehicle on a street in front of Chesapeake Energy Arena and briefly addressed a crowd of about 1,500 people outside before entering the arena lobby, where highlights of Westbrook’s eight-year career with the Thunder were played on a big screen hung from the ceiling.
Westbrook said people — specifically in the Thunder organization and generally in Oklahoma City — convinced him that staying with the only franchise he’s ever known was the correct decision.
“Me being able to come back here is a true blessing,” Westbrook said. “There is nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City. You guys have basically kind of raised me. I’ve been here since I was 18, 19 years old and you guys have done nothing but great things for me. … I definitely wanted to have an opportunity to be loyal to you guys.”
The 27-year-old Westbrook is one of the top stars in the NBA and piled up 18 triple-doubles last season, tying Magic Johnson for the most in the last 30 years. The five-time All-Star averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists last season and helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference finals, where the lost a 3-1 series lead and fell in seven games to Golden State.
For his entire career, Westbrook had been paired with fellow superstar Durant and together they turned Oklahoma City into an NBA title contender. The Thunder reached the conference finals four of the past six seasons, but advanced to the NBA Finals only once, falling to the Miami Heat in 2012.
Durant became a free agent at season’s end and announced July 4 that he would sign with Golden State.
Westbrook’s contract had been set to expire after next season and, after Durant’s departure — which was unexpected by Thunder fans — rumors swirled about Westbrook’s future while he publicly remained silent. Westbrook and the Thunder answered most of those rumors Thursday.
If things go poorly for Oklahoma City during the upcoming season, the length of Westbrook’s new contract would seem to make him a more valuable trade piece. But for now, both he and Thunder seem to be going all in.
“On behalf of the Thunder organization and the entire state of Oklahoma I want to congratulate Russ and offer my sincere appreciation for not only his profound presence and skill as a player, but for his high character, personal integrity and extraordinary leadership,” team owner Clay Bennett said in a statement. He attended the press conference, but did not speak to the media.
General manager Sam Presti said Westbrook — who was raised in Los Angeles and spent two seasons in college at UCLA — ended up being a good fit for Oklahoma City.
“It’s obviously an incredible opportunity to have a player like Russell Westbrook in your organization, not just as a player . but also as a human being and a leader,” Presti said. “He’s become synonymous not only with the Thunder, but also with the city and the spirit of the city. We are just overjoyed that he will continue his career and his legacy with the Thunder.”
Presti said Durant’s departure helped give the Thunder the financial flexibility to negotiate an extension with Westbrook. The third year of the new contract is a player option, meaning that Westbrook technically only extended his guaranteed stay with the Thunder by only one season, but Westbrook emphasized on several occasions Thursday that Oklahoma City was “the best place for me and the best team.”
He said that’s the reason he re-signed now and didn’t wait until the end of the season and free agency.
“There’s no need to wait when you know where you want to be,” he said. “There’s no need to waste time. I’m a straightforward type of guy. I’ll shoot you straight.”
Westbrook said he learned of Durant’s decision to sign with Golden State “the way you all found out, on the news, on cellphones, social media. I talked to Kevin … early on in the process, but other than that, it was just a text message. That’s about it.”
He said he still considers Durant a friend, but that the two haven’t spoken since before Durant’s announcement. Westbrook’s competitive side showed when he was asked if Durant’s leaving for Golden State (and not another team) made his departure sting more than it might have.
“Sting for who?” Westbrook replied.
In Rio de Janeiro, where he is part of the U.S. Olympic team, Durant said he wouldn’t immediately be reaching out to Westbrook to discuss his decision to stay in Oklahoma City.
“Nah, that’s a touchy deal,” Durant said. “At some point, we’ll sit down and talk. But I don’t know when.”
Asked if he was happy for Westbrook, Durant said he was.
“I’m happy to see any player in this league do whatever they want to do,” Durant said. “It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City that love to watch him play and love to have him on their team. So I’ve got nothing but positive energy and vibes for everybody. I’ve got no beef with anybody. There’s no ill will with anybody. If he did what he wanted to do, that’s better. That’s great for him.”