Does Russell Westbrook's Potential Record-Setting Contract Extension Make Sense?
In less than two months, Russell Westbrook could very well be named the MVP of the NBA. He had a historic year on so many levels and has put himself in position to win one of the closest races we've seen in quite some time.
That much we know.
We also know that Westbrook signed a three-year, $85 million contract extension this past offseason and that Oklahoma City is where he wants to be. He loves it there. For the Thunder, though, the price of this love affair could be pretty steep.
Back in December, the NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement included a provision that grandfathered Westbrook (as well as James Harden) into the league's super-max contract extensions that will be made available this summer. The idea behind these super-max extensions is to encourage players to sign long-term with their current teams by allowing teams to a pay a player up to 35% of the cap. Only players who meet certain standards (All-NBA teams, MVP or Defensive Player of the Year) are eligible for such a max deal.
Sure, Westbrook's one of the favorites to win MVP, but there is no level of uncertainty around the likelihood of him obtaining a spot on any of the NBA's top three All-NBA squads. For that reason, he will be eligible for a five-year, $217 million extension this summer -- a deal that would make him the highest-paid player in NBA history.
Thunder GM Sam Presti is hopeful they will lock up Westbrook for the long term. As great as he is, though, is Westbrook worth over $40 million a year? Even if he is, would it be smart for OKC to cough up all that money?
Is Westbrook Deserving?
By one advanced metric, Westbrook was the league's fifth-most valuable player this season. According to Basketball Reference, his 13.1 total win shares trailed the likes of Harden, Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard.
The issue with comparing Westbrook to these four players, though, is that three of them -- Gobert, Butler and Leonard -- are currently playing on what many consider to be some of the NBA's most team-friendly contracts (Gobert's extension kicks in next season). They're even more valuable on a per-dollar basis.
For that reason, we'll take a look at how Westbrook compares to the nine other players who make up the league's 10 highest-paid players. We'll compare overall salary and win share totals, but most importantly, the cost of a single win share this season.
The process for determining the cost of a win for a player is rather simple. You take a player's salary and divide it by their win share total. Voila! You see how much a win cost a team for that player.
Using that measure, how does Westbrook rate?
|Player||16-17 Salary||Win Shares||Cost per WS|
Of the 10, Harden is the only player with a cost below Westbrook. And at the same price tag, that's saying something.
Yet, relative to the average of nearly $3.6 million per win share, Westbrook is a value at a hair over $2 million. That's almost $1 million less than DeMar DeRozan and less than half the marks of Carmelo Anthony and Al Horford.
But, for comparison's sake, if we were to compensate Westbrook the average for the 10 players above -- assuming he'll produce the same number of win shares in 2017-18 -- he would be due just south of $46.9 million a year. That's roughly $3.5 million above what he would receive from a potential super-max deal worth $43.4.
So is Westbrook deserving? There's a million ways to say whether he is or isn't, but the short answer is probably.
Can the Thunder Justify It?
Of the two, this is the more difficult question to answer in any definitive way because it's much more complicated than just Westbrook's value.
To address this side of it, we have to consider cap space, luxury tax, personnel and who knows what else.
According to The Vertical, here's the two-year outlook as the roster stands today.
As you can see, the Thunder are strapped for cash for the foreseeable future. Even if they depart with free agents (unrestricted) Nick Collison, Taj Gibson and (restricted) Andre Roberson, their guaranteed salaries are still nearly $6 million above the cap. In large part, that's because of Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter, who will make up a combined 60.2% of the team's cap.
One of the keys for Presti will be moving Kanter -- an extra big lost in a guard's league. If he can do that for lower compensation (a single pick) or attach something of value to relieve the Thunder of his huge cap hit, that could mean a big addition or two minor ones on the perimeter.
As we know, outside is where Oklahoma City needs the most help. After ranking dead last in the league with 32.7% shooting from beyond the arc, they'll need to build upon or improve their current options -- Doug McDermott (36.2% three-point shooting) and Alex Abrines (38.1%).
If the Thunder can't unload Kanter, with so much money tied up in four players (including Westbrook), they would almost assure themselves a repeat -- if not worse -- of this season. And a lot of Westbrook and a poor supporting cast is not a championship recipe.
With that, the question becomes whether or not Westbrook should want to take up 35% of his team's cap? Don't get me wrong -- he should want his money, but if he's about winning as much as he professes, he might have to sacrifice a few million here or there in order for a deal to make sense for all parties involved.