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Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook's contract questions focus on how much and how long

RUSSELL WESTBROOK — When the NBA lockout officially ends, signing Russell Westbrook to a long-term extension becomes the Oklahoma City Thunder's first order of business. Given Westbrook's stated desire to remain in OKC, the question is how much he'll be paid and for how many years.
By DARNELL MAYBERRY, Staff Writer, dmayberry@opubco.com Published: November 26, 2011
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It's possible, however, that in their settlement owners and players agreed to lower the annual raises for extensions, if not the total number of years as well. That could mean Westbrook, for example, might be eligible for a four-year extension with, say, 6 percent or 8 percent annual raises.

If Westbrook is allowed to sign a five-year extension, the deal would kick in before the start of the 2012-13 season and keep Westbrook in a Thunder uniform through the 2016-17 season. Durant, who led the league in scoring in each of the past two seasons, is signed through the 2015-16 season.

But it's Westbrook's deal that appears destined to be the overriding factor that will determine the remainder of the Thunder's salary cap structure and what the franchise can and cannot fit onto its books going forward.

Westbrook's rapid rise has placed him among the league's elite point guards. Last season, he averaged career highs with 21.9 points and 8.2 assists, while adding 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He ranked second in regular season triple-doubles with three.

That statistical production is in line with Chicago guard Derrick Rose, who won last year's Most Valuable Player award, and puts Westbrook in position to command something close to a maximum contract. Carrying two max contract players, however, could be costly for the Thunder and might greatly impact the franchise's ability to retain its core. With the new collective bargaining agreement increasing restrictions on spending for high-payroll teams, as well as instituting a more punitive luxury tax system, it's doubtful that a small market franchise like the Thunder can sustain a payroll that fields two max players.

If Westbrook agrees to something less than the maximum allowable salary, the Thunder could be in a good position to later ink Serge Ibaka and James Harden, both of whom are eligible for extensions to their rookie scale contracts next year.

Based on a hypothetical sample roster recently floated by the league, a franchise potentially could field a competitive team with a balanced payroll that, by 2013-14, is topped by one maximum salary ($17 million), with a second All-Star caliber player earning $14 million.

Using that formula, the Thunder might be able to comfortably tender Westbrook a deal in the five-year, $75 million range if the rules remain the same. That would give Westbrook an average salary of $15 million starting at $13 million and would be $20 million more than the extension heralded Boston point guard Rajon Rondo received.

Under that scenario, however, the Thunder would have to commit to being a big-spending team. Last season, only five teams spent at least $75 million, or the projected tax level in two years, which the league's sample roster proposed franchises spend. The Thunder's payroll last season was slightly more than $58 million, and it likely will be slightly less this year.

But, at last, the rampant questions about Westbrook's future are about to have some real answers.


Key points to the tentative agreement to end the NBA lockout

NBA owners and players have reached a tentative agreement to end the 149-day lockout and plan to begin the delayed season on Christmas Day.

Here are some highlights:

* The deal: Largely completed around 3 a.m. EST Saturday, then announced. More details still must be tackled including dismissing all pending lawsuits, making the National Basketball Players Association an actual union again and voting by both the players and owners to ratify the agreement.

Key dates: Dec. 9 (free agency opens, camps open), Dec. 25 (games begin).

Owners' biggest win: Reducing the players' guarantee of basketball-related income to no higher than 51 percent after they received 57 percent under the previous collective bargaining agreement. With each BRI point worth about $40 million based on last season's revenues, that's a swing of at least $240 million annually, erasing most of what owners said were $300 million in losses last season.

Owners' biggest loss: The NFL style hard cap and non-guaranteed contracts they sought. The system is in fact similar to the old one, just with harsher luxury tax penalties to limit spending.

Players' biggest win: The preservation of the midlevel exception — though in a reduced form — and various trade rules for teams over the luxury tax, keeping the biggest market teams in the running to bid for them, even if they can't pay as much as they used to.

Players' biggest loss: Money. They're transferring more than $1 billion in salary and benefits to owners in the first six years of the deal.

What's next: Look for talks early this week on a preseason schedule, the dismissal or settlement of pending lawsuits, then movement toward getting the entire CBA written.

The Associated Press

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