If this is how Russell Westbrook is going to play with a new contract, the Thunder might've wanted to get that deal done a few weeks ago.
He was as good as he has been all season Monday.
The Thunder point guard had his way with the lowly Pistons in a 99-79 blowout. He created good looks. He made pretty passes. He snagged big rebounds. He played stifling defense. He made great decisions.
He played like a guy motivated to prove that he's worth every penny of his new five-year, $80 million deal.
You can't always say that about players who get fat paydays.
“Some guys kind of slow down and say, ‘I've arrived, I've got a new contract, I'm not going to work on my draft every day,'” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Russell's gonna keep working.
“He's not going to stop.”
Sure doesn't look like it.
Of course, this was only his second game since Westbrook and the Thunder agreed to that long-term, high-dollar extension last Thursday. Still, all signs point to this being a positive.
Westbrook played more at ease, more in control than he has all season. He didn't have a season high in scoring. He didn't have a season low in turnovers. But he had a stat line that was impressive in every way.
The numbers: 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting, five rebounds, six assists, two turnovers.
And maybe most importantly, he set the tone for the Thunder. He scored its first basket on a rebound and put back. He snagged a rebound on the Pistons' next possession and notched an assist on an easy Kevin Durant layup in transition. On the Thunder's next possession, Westbrook broke through the Pistons' porous defense, sliced through the lane and threw down a vicious dunk.
“Just trying to keep the excitement in the game,” he said. “Just trying to keep the fans involved.”
But wait, there's more.
Westbrook and Durant got out on the break on the Thunder's next possession and teamed up for as nasty a play as you'll ever see. Westbrook threw a left-handed, wrap-around, behind-the-back pass to Durant, who converted in transition traffic.
It might've been the play of the year if not for that 20-something-foot, left-handed bounce pass Westbrook threw to Durant the other night at Washington.
Still, the pass Monday night was something special.
“I'm naturally left-handed,” Westbrook said after Monday's game, seemingly trying to deflect some of the wonder it.
OK, Russ, we'll give you that, but c'mon, that was a big-time play.
“Definitely surprised a few people,” he acknowledged.
But despite all the fireworks, the best thing about Westbrook's night was his calm, poise and focus. We've seen him play too fast or with too big a chip on his shoulder. He's not at his best when he plays like that.
Maybe getting this new contract has taken some of that pressure off him.
He has said that he doesn't feel like he was pressing early in the season because the deal hadn't gotten done, but it had to be in the back of his mind. It was his future. It was his career.
“Once you get that out of the way, you get to focus on the team you have and the season ahead of you,” Westbrook said. “It definitely is a burden off the shoulders.”
Clearly, after scoring a long-term, high-dollar contract, there's a fine line between feeling secure in your future and getting lackadaisical in your attitude. But so far, it looks like Westbrook is thriving with this new deal.
Good for Westbrook.
Good for the Thunder.