In the aftermath of losing franchise pillar Kevin Durant to Golden State Warriors for nothing, Oklahoma City Thunder’s title aspirations went up in smoke. The team had not only lost a four time scoring champion and 2014 Most Valuable Player, it had lost a top five talent in the world’s best basketball league at the prime of his career.
With his departure, any hopes of repeating the Western Conference semi final triumph over San Antonio Spurs vanished and taking Conference winners Golden State to seven games sounded insane. These thoughts were realistic had the Thunder’s other franchise pillar Russell Westbrook, signed for another next year as free agent.
But penning his signature to a three year $85 million -with an option to become a free agent after the second year -contract means the aforementioned insinuations now seem a bit far fetched. In the Eastern Conference conversely, LeBron James signed an extension of his own by inking a three year $100 million contract with reigning champions Cleveland Cavaliers recently.
What both contracts have in common despite being on the opposite side of the enormous land mass called the United States of America, is the that they last for just two seasons before they become expendable once again. And this dire situation puts a leash on how far these teams are built for the long haul.
The Thunder and Cavs basically have two years to get a maiden title or improve the trophy haul.
After two years, both teams worst night mares can come true as LeBron and Westbrook can bolt out of their respective towns for a different experience. In the former’s case, the probability of leaving Cleveland for a second time is very low and unlikely to happen any time soon but if LeBron’s recent statements prior to his new deal, are anything to go by, Cleveland cannot get too comfortable. James stated during the offseason he was chasing six time winner Michael Jordan’s Ghost. That means General Manager David Griffin has to build a team worthy of contending and winning three titles for King James to equal His Airness tally. That also means Coach Tyronne Lue has to make necessary adjustments to play more small lineups with James at Power Forward position to make him look good in all aspects for a fifth Most Valuable Player Award. Should these fail to materialize, LeBron leaving Cleveland still doesn’t look it is going to happen for the remainder of his playing career.
Same cannot be said for Oklahoma and Westbrook, who agreed to the bumper deal signed to the quick silver Guard from supposedly tripping to hometown Los Angeles next year. Financially it gives Westbrook options to earn maximum money on his next contract as he will be eligible to earn 30% of the team’s salary cap as a ten year veteran. It also means in the immediate future, Westbrook, who was set to earn $17 million when the new season tips off late October, will earn nine million dollars more. On the court, the extension contract gives the 2008 Draft fourth pick ample time to gauge Oklahoma’s ability to contend for a title. In the event, Oklahoma gets ousted in consecutive years, you can bet on Westbrook skipping town for a different title ready locale in the league. Many have pinned down Los Angeles Lakers to be that destined team as the second most successful NBA team are on their way back to the top after collecting a hoard of talented youngsters primed to blossom into big time players at the time Westbrook becomes a free agent.
In D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson, there is much to be smile about in the years ahead for lovers of the Yellow and Mauve side of Tinsel town. Growing up in Long Beach and schooling two years at the University of California-Los Angeles, has shaped Russell in a non cognizant way in “small” city Oklahoma particularly his off the cuff fashion sense but does seemingly in the “big” city of Angels. It behooves on smart Manager Sam Presti to build a roster capable of toppling Golden State, San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers and the newly built Memphis Grizzlies which begins with upgrading the Shooting Guard position when recently acquired Victor Oladipo slides over to the position as Westbrook’s backup at point guard ahead of Ronnie Price.
As good as he is shooting three point shots, Anthony Morrow offers little particularly on the defensive side and as good as he is defending opponents, Andre Roberson doesn’t cut it on offense for a contending team. Small Forward position becomes problematic once the above mentioned two move to shooting guard as the options available spell inexperienced Alex Abrines and Josh Huestis.
Fans of both sides thronged to celebrate with their stars but their stars aren’t a lock to stay put for the long haul.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah