The last time we saw Russell Westbrook, he was standing almost front and center at the final National Basketball Players Association news conference.
Sporting a red hooded sweatshirt with a black backpack strapped to his shoulders, the Oklahoma City Thunder's point guard, at times, appeared solemn and slightly confused as he flanked union chief Billy Hunter while he delivered the news that would further delay Westbrook's long-term security.
The next time we see Westbrook, he could be just days away from finally being signing a long-term deal that secures him as the Thunder's second significant linchpin.
With the NBA lockout set to be lifted, and the league now just days away from ratifying a collective bargaining agreement, Westbrook will soon officially become eligible for an extension to his rookie contract. It has long been the most important bit of business on the Thunder's offseason to-do list. We just didn't know the process would see a 149-day setback.
But we know Westbrook, a first-time All-Star and Second-Team All-NBA selection last year, wants to get a deal done. He quashed all delusions about his desired long-term home back in the spring.
“I definitely want to play here,” Westbrook said at his season-ending interview with reporters. “I love being here. I definitely would love staying here.”
The feelings of the Thunder's front office are no doubt mutual now that Westbrook has morphed into arguably a top five point guard.
The question now is when might a deal take shape?
Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, teams had until Oct. 31 (or the following business day if Oct. 31 fell on a weekend) to come to terms on an extension with rising fourth-year players. But because the lockout prohibited franchises from all contact with its players — preventing any necessary contract negotiations — since July 1, the Thunder has never been able to enter into talks with Westbrook's representatives.
Those talks, though, are expected to begin in full bore on Dec. 9, when the league formally reopens for business following the final approval of the CBA. Generally, July 1 is the first date in which teams can negotiate rookie scale extensions and contracts with free agents.
An NBA spokesman said via email Saturday that it's currently unclear when the new deadline will be to come to terms on rookie extensions for rising fourth-year players such as Westbrook. Under normal circumstances, a rising fourth-year player would become a restricted free agent in the following summer if an extension was not agreed upon by Oct. 31. The Thunder experienced that scenario with former forward Jeff Green, who subsequently was traded to Boston in mid-season in the deal that brought Kendrick Perkins to OKC.
Details of the amended CBA are unclear. But if the league maintains its previous rookie scale extension format, Westbrook would be eligible for a five-year extension that carries annual raises of 10.5 percent of the extension's first year's salary. It would be the same contract structure Thunder forward Kevin Durant signed last summer.
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