Russell Westbrook has yet to sign the five-year, $207-million so-called super-maxÂ extensionÂ that the Oklahoma City Thunder offered him as soon as free agency opened in July, but he did just sign a 10-year extension with Nike that will make him the richest Jordan Brand athlete not named Michael.
Does one have anything to do with the other? Both should make the Oklahoma City Thunder nervous.
Westbrook's new Jordan Brand deal is retroactive to his MVP campaign and runs through the 2025-26 season,Â according to ESPN's Nick DePaula. He will be 37 years old when his new shoe contract runs out, presumably no longer the explosive supernova he's become. This is his security blanket.
TheÂ exact figure ofÂ the shoe deal has gone unreported, but former Jordan Brand athlete Dwyane Wade reportedly madeÂ more than $10 million annually before leaving Nike in 2012, and Westbrook's ex-teammates James Harden and Kevin DurantÂ make $14 million and $25 million per year from Adidas and Nike, respectively. It's safe to assume Westbrook's contract falls somewhere between those two figures, given the company's desire to make him â€œthe face for the Air Jordan game shoe,â€ per DePaula.
â€œEvery time I played the game of basketball, when I stepped onto that floor, I always felt like there was someone there that never saw me play the game of basketball, and that motivated me every single night. This kid has the same passion, and you can't get that.â€
What I mean to say here is this: Russell Westbrook, who has already made $102.7 millionÂ as aÂ playerÂ to date, not to mention other endorsement deals, probably just doubled his career earnings, and suddenly the $53.5 millionÂ discrepancy betweenÂ aÂ super-max extension from OKC andÂ theÂ four-year, $153.5 million deal he could command as a free agent next summer isn't all that difference-making.
Thunder GM Sam Presti lived up to his promiseÂ to present WestbrookÂ with a super-max extension on July 1, telling reporters, â€œI wouldn't really say that one's a negotiation,â€ becauseÂ the organizationÂ has offered their franchise player everything they can andÂ the team isÂ merely waiting onÂ his answer.
Westbrook evaded questions about his contract situation both at his exit interview in late April andÂ after receiving his MVP trophy at the first annual NBA Awards Show two months later, respectively saying, â€œI haven't even thought about that,â€ and, â€œIt's not really on my mind at the moment honestly.â€
Throughout,Â Westbrook has suggested, â€œOklahoma City is the place that I want to be,â€Â but he's now hadÂ two moreÂ months to consider his future, andÂ the super-max extension remains unsigned. In mid-July, sourced reports indicatedÂ the Thunder wereÂ still â€œcautiously optimisticâ€ Westbrook would sign before the mid-October deadline, but that caution evolved into â€œanxietyâ€ by the end of August.
Last summer, when Westbrook signed a three-year, $86 million extension with an option for the third season and the concept of a super-max extension didn't even exist, he told reporters, â€œThere's nowhere else I'd rather be than Oklahoma City,â€ and, â€œLoyalty is something I stand by,â€ before adding, â€œThere's no need to wait if you know where you want to be.â€ It was a defiant stance following Durant's departure to the Golden State Warriors, and one that indicated heÂ might actually be a Thunder lifer.
That could still be the case even if he doesn't sign an extension by Oct. 16. He couldÂ agree to the same deal next summer, or, as a 10-year veteran, he could sign for 35 percent of the salary cap for any length of time. A two- or three-year contract would put him in line for another massive payday in his early 30s, whereasÂ the max extension keeps him under contractÂ through 2023, when he will turn 35.
It's a question of Westbrook maximizing his earning potentialÂ or valuingÂ longterm security,Â and a shoe deal that could fetch somewhere around $200 million alleviates pressure on the latter. The problem for OKC is the risk that Westbrook can sign the same shorter-term deals with any team next summer.
His hometown Los Angeles Lakers, for instance,Â can create enough cap space to offer twoÂ max contracts next summer. Like, say, some combination of LeBron James, Paul George and Westbrook.
While â€œvarious NBA executives believe Westbrook will eventually sign his deal with the Thunder,â€Â perÂ a report from Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus earlier this month, â€œwhispers around the NBA suggest James would love to team up with the explosive guard.â€ So, take this recent Instagram photo at face value:
A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on Sep 8, 2017 at 8:08am PDT
The Thunder made significant upgradesÂ this summer, adding George and Patrick Patterson to a team thatÂ won 47 games last season, thanks in large part to Westbrook's triple-double campaign. They should be a real threatÂ in the West this season, and even George, who has been open about hisÂ L.A. interest next summer, conceded to Sports Illustrated, â€œIf we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I'd be dumb to want to leave that.â€
It's hard to imagine Westbrook feeling any differently. Still, the Thunder are running the risk of losing both Westbrook and George next summer if the former doesn't sign his extension in the next month. That would completely decimate the franchise, and that has to scare the hell out of OKC's front office.
I'm not saying this would happen, but can you imagine a scenario in which Westbrook and George enjoy playing together this season, but realize OKC's ceiling is too low, and then are tempted by the thought of playing together in their hometown withÂ the young corps of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle on a Lakers team that will always be a destination for other talented free agents?
That is the Thunder's nightmare. Even if Westbrook were to give them every indication he plans to re-sign next summer, the remote possibility of him following Durant out the door has to be enough to scare Presti into at least considering theÂ idea of trading Westbrook and George this season. That is the level of uncertainty thatÂ shroudsÂ Oklahoma CityÂ as Westbrook's indecision fills the air with doubt.
James Harden and Stephen Curry acceptedÂ super-max extensions beforeÂ the NBA's moratorium even ended in July. They too recently signed massive shoe deals. If OKC is truly where Westbrook wants to be, he couldÂ sign theÂ richest deal in league historyÂ today and settle into that Thunder life, butÂ his record-breaking Jordan BrandÂ contractÂ might have just made him equally comfortable elsewhere.