Last week, Russell Westbrook agreed to a max extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder that will keep him in OKC through at least 2018. While the deal is huge for the Thunder, it does little to alter the NBA landscape this season. In fact, the inevitable reality of a 2017 Finals rematch of 2015 and 2016 just got a little more inevitable.
Some sports books currently have both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors as -250 favorites to win their respective conferences. Any other season, it would be insane for both conferences to feature such heavy favorites, but not this year. Neither the Warriors nor Cavs have seen their conference rivals take a major step forward. This paves the way for yet another Warriors-Cavs matchup in June. Moreover, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams coast through their first 12 playoff wins.
Russell Westbrook Extension Increases Chances of Warriors-Cavaliers Rematch
The Golden State Warriors won 73 games last year (just in case you forgot). They also signed the 2014 NBA MVP in Kevin Durant, who will be just 28 this season. Simultaneously, Golden State crippled the team that gave them the biggest scare in the Western Conference. Who is going to challenge the Warriors out West?
Unless Kawhi Leonard takes another humongous leap forward, the San Antonio Spurs won’t give the Warriors a run for their money. The addition of Pau Gasol doesn’t cancel out Tim Duncan’s retirement, Boris Diaw’s departure, the six win difference between the two teams in the regular season, and Golden State’s addition of Durant. Gregg Popovich is an incredible coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. Well, maybe he is. Great people have doubted Gregg Popovich, and none have lived to tell the tale. Maybe it’s not wise to follow in their footsteps. Regardless, the Spurs won’t be able to overtake the Dubs after the addition of Durant.
The Thunder may have retained Westbrook, but if they couldn’t beat the Warriors with KD, how will they do it without him? Also, they don’t have enough assets to trade for another superstar. The Los Angeles Clippers would have had a chance against Golden State this past spring. It’s impossible to see them outlasting the Warriors in a playoff series when the Dubs will almost surely have home court. The Memphis Grizzlies didn’t make enough of a jump this offseason, and neither did the Portland Trail Blazers or anyone else. Barring injury, the Warriors should roll through the first three rounds of the playoffs without playing a seven game series.
LeBron James may never approach the apex that he reached in June 2016 again, but he won’t have to be superhuman for the Cavaliers to three-peat as Eastern Conference Champions. The Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Bobcats all made lateral movements at best this offseason. The Boston Celtics will likely provide the Cavs with the biggest challenge this year with the Al Horford addition, but they still got bounced in 2016 by a team that has lost eight straight playoff games to Cleveland. Finally, the Toronto Raptors may even take the Cavs to seven games this season. However, they didn’t improve enough this summer to have a legitimate chance at beating the LeBrons in 2017. The Cavs, like the Warriors, will likely reach the finals with only two or three losses during the postseason.
How does the Russell Westbrook trade fit into all of this? Well, Westbrook was one of the few players who could actually change the status quo this season. Had Wesrbrook not re-upped with the Thunder, he likely would’ve been traded during the year. Westbrook could have thrown a major wrench into the Cavs’ and Warriors’ race for a rematch. For instance, if Westbrook had gone to the Celtics for Jaylen Brown, Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier, and approximately 587 of the Celtics’ 834 draft picks, suddenly the C’s would have been a major threat to the Cavs with a top eight rotation of Westbrook, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, and Amir Johnson.
One of the most important potential trade acquisitions was just taken off the board for the time being. While Thunder fans should absolutely celebrate the extension, so should Warriors and Cavaliers fans. Place your bets on a Cavs-Warriors rematch before the odds go down.
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – OCTOBER 28: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives against Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs as he rebounded a ball during the third quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Center on October 28, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)