Rumors ran rampant about Westbrook having a desire to flee to his hometown of Los Angeles and play for the Lakers the first chance he could. But Westbrook has never done anything but express his commitment to Oklahoma.
“I love Oklahoma, man,” Westbrook said. “I think it’s one of the best places. The fans are great. The organization is the best in the league. I love my teammates. Things around here are done the right way, and I like to be around things that are done the right way and be around people that love you and show that you matter in the organization. And the fans and the way the city has appreciated me and my family has been great and has made it easy for me to want to stay here for many, many years.”
Westbrook showed his commitment by signing for the full five years. Many players negotiate an “opt-out” clause that allows them to become free agents following the second-to-last season of a new deal. But, like Durant, Westbrook signed on for the long haul. Westbrook even turned down an opportunity to make more money under a 5 percent, incentive-based raise known as the “Derrick Rose rule” that he would have qualified for should he be selected as an All-NBA performer a second time this season. That decision could help the Thunder retain James Harden and Serge Ibaka when they come up for extensions.
Need more evidence that Westbrook’s heart has always been in Oklahoma City?
Westbrook said he has never considered L.A. as a destination and said he doesn’t know where the Los Angeles rumors came from.
“Most of the time, I don’t know how most of the stuff is started,” Westbrook said. “I just try to stay focused on what’s going on in Oklahoma City and what’s going on with our team over here and try to make this team better.”
Westbrook has done just that.
Since Westbrook arrived, the Thunder has gone from 23-win non-playoff team, to a 50-win club that lost in the first round to a 55-win Western Conference finalist. It’s continued a winning tradition that follows Westbrook wherever he goes.
Despite receiving a last-ditch scholarship offer by Howland at UCLA, the Bruins advanced to the Final Four in each of Westbrook’s two seasons on campus. After starting as an unlikely member of the USA Men’s Basketball Team that competed in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Westbrook became one of the team’s stars that led the red, white and blue to its first gold medal since 1994. And without Westbrook, the Thunder doesn’t make it to the conference finals last season.
“Winning is very important to me regardless of what’s going on,” Westbrook said. “That’s just how I’ve always been. Just continuing to win is something that I was always brought up in my family doing; regardless of what the circumstances are, find a way to get a win.”
The Thunder has all but guaranteed its fans will now see wins stack up. Westbrook and Durant both are still just 23, an age that is considered three to four years away from the start of a player’s prime. It’s something that hasn’t been lost on Westbrook.
“You definitely think about that and the team we have,” Westbrook said. “You definitely think about that with the relationship me and Kevin have and becoming closer. As we become closer on and off the floor, you definitely think about some of the things that we can do.”
There will be plenty of time for that. Thursday, though, was a day for Westbrook to celebrate, to bask in what he called the best stage of his bumpy but blossoming career.
Finally, he can see he has folks in his corner. Finally, he can see folks that truly believe in him.
“It provides a sense of security,” Westbrook said. “Once a team puts faith in you to be one of their guys on their team and be here for the long haul, it shows a sense of security and it’s a good thing to be around.”