When Russell Westbrook finishes his career will he just be a one team player who decided to be loyal or will he chase the ultimate goal and become an NBA champion?
In a perfect world, Russell Westbrook would be the Dirk Nowitzki of his generation. Westbrook would go on and destroy a super team on his way to his first championship as Nowitzki once did. Nowitzki would take down the three-headed monster that was the Miami Heat led by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Westbrook has spent eleven years with the Oklahoma City Thunder after being drafted fourth back in 2008.
Through their eleven-year journey, Westbrook and Oklahoma City have built a seemingly unbreakable bond that has seen the two entities stick together through some of the highest of highs like making an NBA Finals and Westbrook’s MVP campaign. There have been some very low lows such as Westbrook ’s knee injury and the departure of Kevin Durant. The Thunder also have not let the outside noise affect their belief in Westbrook, and there has been a lot. Westbrook has turned himself into the face of the franchise through superhuman feats and an unrivaled determination. For all the heroics paired with his Why Not mentality, it has only taken the Thunder as far as the first round of the playoffs and no further.
The Thunder are sliding down the standings after the All-Star break going 5-8 and falling to sixth in the west which has them playing the Portland Trailblazers in round one of the playoffs. Another round one exit would bring the spotlight directly on Westbrook and his inability to get past the first round since the departure of Durant. Westbrook re-signed with the Thunder last season for five-years, $205 million contract extension in a show of loyalty to the Thunder organization and the fans that have stuck by the former MVP. Loyalty has become one of the rarest qualities a professional athlete has today. The extension would begin this season and go through to the 2022-23 season with the final year being a player option worth $47,063,47 Westbrook will be 33 years old. General Manager Sam Presti has locked down Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroeder, and Deonte Burton down until 2020/21 with Jerami Grant, Terence Ferguson, Abdel Nader, and Hamidou Diallo having either a team or player option in 2020/21.
Presti has constructed the Oklahoma City Thunder with an expiry date. Whether Presti did it intentionally or unintentionally, the Thunder have a window to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship, and it’s by 2020/21. Many people in the media believe Westbrook will never win an NBA championship because of his style and aggression.
If the Thunder were to be eliminated in the first round for the third straight year the question of can Russell Westbrook win a championship will get a lot louder especially in the national media. The bigger issue might be can the Thunder and Westbrook win together? Westbrook is currently staring down a legacy the likes of Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Elgin Baylor, Allen Iverson or Karl Malone great players who could never reach the top of the mountain.
Would Westbrook at the age of 33 walk away from the only franchise and fan base he has ever known? At the age of 33, he would be at year 13 of his hall of fame career with the option if the Thunder were not to be champions walk away and try and do what many have done before and chase a ring at the end of his career? Players had pursued a ring at the end of their career before players like Clyde Drexler who after eleven seasons with the Portland Trailblazers asked for a trade that was granted seeing him move to the Houston Rockets and winning his first ring defeating the Orlando Magic in four games. Other players to ring chase Gary Payton, Ron Artest and Shaquille O’Neil to name a few.
Westbrook might find himself staring down a decision that could decide the legacy he leaves behind for everyone to remember. Will he be known as the man that chose to stay and be loyal to his team and fan base in a generation that would instead team up with their friends and win a championship then wait and try to build a winning team from the ground up. The other decision would be to go and chase the elusive ring and escape the legacy-defining notion of a guy that couldn’t win a ring. We see what that looks like every time Shaquille O’Neil and Charles Barkley argue on Inside the NBA on TNT when Shaq rubs it in Barkley’s face that he never climbed the mountain.
Westbrook can put a stop to all of these questions with the help of Paul George the Thunder can figure it out and either beat the Golden State Warriors or outlast the Warriors and have one of the best one-two punch combinations in the league.
It’s on Russell Westbrook to answer the question of what’s more valuable Loyalty or the Ring? Maybe he can do that superhuman thing he does and ends up leaving a legacy of being the loyal guy who brought a ring to the team he stayed with from the start that does both.