Even though Russell Westbrook agreed to a renegotiation and extension a little less than a year ago, his contract status has returned as a major point of intrigue around the league. Typically, the Collective Bargaining Agreement has strong limitations on how frequently players can renegotiate or extend their contracts, but Westbrook’s special situation changes that.
Last summer, he and James Harden both agreed to longer contracts that used some of their teams’ cap space to make the existing years on the deal more lucrative as well. Four months later, the players and owners agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that established Designated Veteran contracts and extensions, a brand new way for elite players to receive the highest 35 percent maximum salary even before reaching ten years of NBA experience.
Under normal circumstances, Westbrook and Harden would have been ineligible to receive those contracts since they had renegotiated so recently. However, the former teammates were specifically exempted from the normal time restrictions since the Designated Veteran rules did not exist last summer.
Harden and the Rockets already took advantage of this wrinkle by agreeing to a Designated Veteran extension that added four seasons and an estimated $169.3 million to his remaining two years and $58.7 million.
While Westbrook can negotiate a Designated Veteran extension, too, the terms of his deal would be different. The CBA specifies that these extensions must run six seasons, including the remaining term of the eligible player’s existing contract. Harden had two years left on his existing contract, so the extension kicks in after that and uses the actual salary cap number for the 2019-20 season, currently estimated at $108 million.
Westbrook’s agreement only has one season left, so his Designated Veteran extension would have five new seasons and use the actual salary cap number for the 2018-19 season. At the current $102 million estimate, that would mean five years, $207,060,000 added to his $28.5 million for the current season.
While the salary cap numbers could change over the next few years, based on the current numbers, Westbrook would actually make more money than Harden for each of the six years covered by the extension due to the new money kicking in a year earlier and eight percent salary raises outpacing a higher 2019-20 cap estimate.
This amazing sum and commitment is also why Westbrook delaying or even refusing to sign his Designated Veteran extension should be concerning to the Thunder. He cannot get that contract anywhere else and certainly cannot come close to locking in that kind of money this offseason. The reigning MVP reaches ten years of NBA experience and the 35 percent maximum next summer, but only his team at the end of that season can offer a five-year contract and the higher eight percent raises using full Bird rights, the exact contract on the table now.
The potential of Westbrook leaving as an unrestricted free agent in 2018 is even more daunting considering Oklahoma City recently lost an MVP without receiving any compensation a year ago when Kevin Durant spurned the Thunder to join the Warriors. While it could be enveloped in more acceptable language, a refusal to sign the Designated Veteran extension this offseason (it has to be agreed to before the start of the regular season) would put GM Sam Presti and ownership in an unenviable position of either trading the beloved MVP or risking another crushing heartbreak.
Westbrook’s situation also has a massive effect on 2018 free agency, as teams will know if he does not agree to the extension that he may be available. The Lakers have been fastidiously preparing to have the space to add two max players and would love the shot to recruit a megastar who grew up in the area. Other teams could manage their finances differently as well, and of course the Thunder would have the opportunity to change the landscape by trading him beforehand like the Pacers did by sending new Westbrook teammate Paul George to Oklahoma City two weeks ago.
As always, the ball is in Russell Westbrook’s hands. He just has to decide what he wants to do with it as the basketball world eagerly waits to see what comes next.