While the rest of the country was celebrating the 4th of July, my state of Oklahoma mourned, as Thunder superstar Kevin Durant declared his independence and signed with the much-resented and already-too-good Golden State Warriors. But now we all feel better, as the Thunder’s other superstar, Russell Westbrook–instead of being traded as everyone expected–gave up next year’s free agency to sign a three-year $85.7 million contract extension.
He is staying! He is a thrilling player, who had been somewhat in the shadow of Durant but who excelled more than usual when Durant was injured. Westbrook, the two-time MVP of the All Star Game, is now the face of the Thunder. And Oklahoma’s favorite athlete.
From Berry Tramel, Turns out, Russell Westbrook becomes Mr. Thunder | News OK:
July 4 was good while it lasted. The sun rose at 6:20 a.m. that fine morning, but Oklahoma turned dark around 10:38 a.m. That’s when Kevin Durant announced he had chosen not to fight the good fight. Neighborhood parades lost their charm. Cheeseburgers lost their flavor. Fireworks lost their sizzle.
Aug. 4 has none of the traditions of its July 4 counterpart. But the revelry that vanished on July 4 has returned. Russell Westbrook, from all kinds of reports, is signing a contract extension with the Thunder.
Restart the parades. Fire up the grill. Light the sparklers.
The Oklahoma staples of hope and optimism have returned. The Dust Bowl lasted a decade. Oil busts last for years. Durant despair made it only a month.
The idea is gone that because Durant fled OKC like a Turkish prison, Westbrook would, too. The Thunder has its cornerstone, and it’s the guy we didn’t expect. Westbrook was not looking for a ride, he was looking for a challenge. Wasn’t looking for a hill to coast down, he was looking for a mountain to climb.
And now the Thunder has charted its new course. No championship roster in 2016-17, but a championship spirit, to go with a young, vibrant, anything’s-possible roster. Westbrook with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo and Alex Abrines and Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova and Cameron Payne and Anthony Morrow.
The Thunder has returned to the Thunder of yesteryear. The underdog Thunder. The Thunder of the last four years has either been expected to win big or played under the cloud of disappointment. But the Thunder before that was precocious and overachieving and a charming member of the NBA playoff hierarchy. That’s what this Thunder team is, except it’s led by a tiger-eyed, lion-hearted ball of fury who we thought would be most likely to leave but instead became the one to stay.