A few days ago on the Grantland Show, Jalen Rose made two of the boldest predictions I’ve ever heard. He predicted that in 2016, when Kevin Durant becomes a free agent, he will join forces with James Harden and Dwight Howard. His next prediction was that Russell Westbrook will also leave OKC and join the Los Angeles Lakers. Could both of these top-tier players realistically leave OKC?
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the best franchises the past few years. They’ve gone from being the worst team in the league to Western Conference favorites and in some cases, NBA Finals favorites. All of this happened in a matter of three years. Each year they just got better, building on what they did the year prior. And today they seem to be on a team that will be in the title hunt for years to come. But how did all of this start?
Well, the day they they drafted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is the short answer. These two players mean everything to OKC. Everyone know these two would be top 5 players in the league, but no one expected it to happen so fast. Kevin Durant has evolved into the best scorer in the NBA, while Westbrook is in the top 5 point guards in the NBA. Both of them were actually ranked in the top 5 by ESPN. Everyone knew KD would be at #2, but many people were surprised at Westbrook being ranked so high.
I was one of the few people who really wasn’t that surprised at all. Russell Westbrook is that good. How good is he? When he went down with a meniscus tear, OKC barely got past Houston and lost to Memphis in 5 games. People can critique his game all they want, but KD really showed how much he needed Westbrook. But let’s not forget the other player who no one thought would be traded; James Harden. He was the 6th man for the Thunder, but would’ve started for any other team. These three played so well, being one of the best trio’s in the league. Even though Miami beat them in 5 games in the Finals 2 years ago, the future was so bright in OKC.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets and few saw this coming. Why would you trade the 3rd best player on your team? No one knows. Many people still feel OKC regrets that trade to this day. Luckily, things worked out for Harden. He finally got the chance to lead a team, and boy did he do well. He averaged 25 points a game, the 5th leading scorer in the NBA. And with Dwight Howard joining Harden, Houston has become a free agent destination. And with that in mind, could KD be on his way out of OKC?
Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Dwight Howard. Wow. What do you get when you have those three players on your team? A championship. It’s not even a discussion. Harden and Durant have already played together so they have chemistry. All KD would have to do is find chemistry with Howard and you’ve got yourself a championship. But why would Kevin want to leave OKC? Doesn’t he have everything he needs? Not quite.
There’s two factors that come into this equation: money and winning. As time goes on, KD is going to want more money and just as much winning. Its just that simple. And if he stays in OKC, he’s not going to get more money. With OKC being a small-market, it’d be hard to give him a contract worth 100 million. In Houston, he’ll be able to get that kind of money. Even though Harden and Howard will already be there, role players would be willing to take pay cuts. It’s not often you can get a team like this. The other factor is winning. He is obviously going to win in OKC, but a championship? Not too sure about that. With Harden and Martin both gone, it’ll be hard for OKC to find that 3rd consistent scorer, and with that being said, I honestly do feel this could possibly happen. Eventually, KD is going to get tired of OKC.
But if KD leaves, what happens to Russell Westbrook? Does he stay in OKC his whole career and stay loyal? I can guarantee that if Durant leaves, Westbrook leaves. Russell Westbrook is a top 5 point guard in the NBA. Anyone would want him on their team. He is the leader of this Thunder team. He doesn’t deserve any of the criticism he gets for his style of play, but honestly, why wouldn’t Russell want to go to LA? Everyone wants to play in LA. And let’s not forget that Westbrook also went to college in Los Angeles. If he left OKC to bolt to the left coast, I wouldn’t be surprised; more money, better lifestyle, and just being in LA makes it that much better.
Right now, it doesn’t seem like these two situations would happen, especially in the short term. But that’s right now. If OKC has not won a championship by 2016, Kevin and Russell could very well both be on their way out of OKC. Sorry, OKC fans.
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