Will Westbrook’s Contract Be Extended?
The Oklahoma City Thunder held their annual Media Day inside the newly-renovated and newly-named Chesapeake Energy Arena (locals now refer to it as “The Peake”). Fans will be impressed with the many big-league upgrades inside the arena. One by one, each member of the Thunder roster – including three just added to training camp – along with coach Scott Brooks were presented to the assembled press for an extended question-and-answer session.
No eye-popping revelations were disclosed, but we did put together some tasty highlights for you.
The topic du jour centered on point guard Russell Westbrook and his lack of a contract extension. Many expected general manager and executive vice president Sam Presti to secure the extension as soon as the lockout ended, but such no announcement has been made.
Here are quotes from various folks when asked about Westbrook’s extension, or rather the lack thereof:
• Westbrook: “I’m going to just let my agent and Sam figure that out. (It’s) not a distraction at all. I’m looking forward to this year, and looking forward to big things out of my team and my teammates.
“I’m not even worried about it,” he stated.
• Brooks: “We love Russell. We love what he’s about. We love his commitment to the team, to his teammates. But Sam handles those issues and he handles the roster. I coach them.
“He’s a tough point guard,” Brooks added. “He’s one of the best in the league.”
• Kevin Durant: “He’s already on our team. I think he’s going to be on our team for a while, too. He wants to stay here. That’s the vibe I’m getting from him. You tell the guy to just make the decision on how he feels and what he believes in. I think Russell is a guy that believes in team first and wants to be here in Oklahoma City. He loves the city, so we’ll see; but I’m not the guy to recruit him.
“He’s a pretty good player,” he said smiling.
Another big topic nearly every player commented on was Kendrick Perkins’ 32-pound weight loss. A slimmer Perk was immediately obvious to all, yet he still appears strong (and intimidating). Not only that, he is healthy. His humor is still very much intact, too. He generated laughs when sharing that he happily left his three sets of braces – worn since 2009 – in a closet at home in Texas.
• “I feel good,” Perkins told HOOPSWORLD. “Just going through training camp these few days, it’s been great. God has been good, I can’t lie. Just trying to stay humble and keep working and maintain. I feel like I still got a ways to go. I’m still trying to get better as the season goes on.”
• “We make an issue about the way he’s come back to camp this year,” Brooks shared. “He had a serious knee injury, but he’s back. He’s healthy. He’s had all summer and parts of the fall to take the rust off his body. He’s had great energy (during training camp). He’s a little grumpy at times, but he’s always talking to our guys. He’s a communicator on the floor and that’s what we need. We have a great group of guys; one of the weaknesses that they do have…they’re not real vocal on the court. To be a great team on both ends of the floor, you need to communicate and help each other out with your words and not just your actions.”
• Westbrook: “He’s done a great job of taking care of his body over the summertime, and it’s really shown. It’s great to see he’s committed to us and committed to winning.”
• Cole Aldrich says despite Perkins’ weight loss, he’s not any easier to shove around now. “No, he’s still tough,” he said. “He’s a lot more agile. Perk looks great on the court. He’s moving his feet really well. He’s getting up and dunking a ball. It’s really fun to see Perk in that shape because we all knew that he could be in that shape.”
Added Perkins: “Even though they’re probably saying they can’t move me, I feel it when I go home at night. I’m sleeping like a baby.”
• Nazr Mohammed: “He came back in great shape. Looks a little more explosive. You can tell he’s definitely going to help us and help him as far as his knees.”
• “He’s looked great,” Nick Collison said. “We knew he wasn’t 100% last year, but he really deserves a lot of credit for coming in in great shape. He looks really great. He’s still physical; he’s just more mobile. He looks like a different player right now. He’s got a lot more lift. He’s moving better. Those are the two things I noticed. He’s able to get off the floor and he’s quicker.”
• Byron Mullens: “Big change. Great for us and he’s been working hard. He keeps working hard at training camp, too. I think it’s something we need for this season. I think it’s a great step for the team to have Perkins in good shape.”
Brooks noted that Durant reported to camp a stronger player as well.
“He’s added a little bit of muscle to his frame. His post-up game, we’re going to continue to build on that. He’s an incredible scorer, we all know that. He led the league two years in a row. But I think he can do a better job at being a playmaker and that will not take away from his scoring, because we need his scoring. He has a great court awareness, and he has the length to see over any defense that teams throw at him.”
“I feel good,” Durant said. “I looked in the mirror before training camp and I actually looked fat. I looked at myself and said, ‘Maybe I need to slow down from eating a little bit.’ I’m excited that we get to play and enjoy this game. It’s so much fun playing for a great city like Oklahoma City. I think my adrenaline’s going to push me through the whole season.
“I’ve been trying to work on my overall game, ball handling, shooting, different moves, every part of my game,” he added. “Hopefully you see something new this year.”
“I feel like a rookie, just getting drafted,” Durant told us.
Perkins continues to be impressed by Durant’s work ethic and his leadership.
“I never tell KD this, but I think he kind of set the bar high for me personally,” explained Perk. “Practice starts at 10, he’s there at 7:45 every morning, and I’m sitting there looking him like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ Seriously, I’m used to getting my shots up after practice; he’s doing it before and after practice. I’m like, ‘You’re setting the bar pretty high for a guy who’s got kids’.
“KD is the guy who leads by example,” he continued. “When I first got here, I never saw a superstar who works as hard as him, and that’s the honest truth. Just watching him before practice, then he goes through practice hard, then he’s shooting again after practice. I’m like ‘when does this dude ever get tired?’ Two weeks after the Finals were played, he went to Rucker and dropped 60, and I’m like ‘When’s your vacation time?’ He really leads by example by not even saying a word.”
Those who tried to get concrete information regarding James Harden starting over Thabo Sefolosha were unsuccessful. Sefolosha said the matter was out of his control, and Harden thinks it’s best to leave the line-up untouched for now.
Harden, his beard longer and wilder than ever, even said it was his goal to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.
And lastly, Westbrook and Durant put to rest any thoughts of friction between the two All-Star players. Some believed they detected negativity directed toward Durant by Westbrook in the postseason.
“It was nothing,” shared Westbrook. “I don’t know what happened last year or what led to everybody saying that, but I’m on to the new year. The reaction was that the Oklahoma City Thunder got to the conference finals and as a team, I think we’ve done a great job at getting better. I wasn’t really trying to make it about me or Kevin…I was more worried about how our team was doing.
“I just know that me and Kevin are very close. We talk every day and communicate on what we need to do coming into this year.”
Durant put the thing in perspective.
“People got to understand that guys are not going agree on every single thing that goes on in a long season. Guys are going to have heated arguments. But at the same time, we understand each other. We know that we just want the best for each other.
“I’ve got his back 100% and he’s got my back 100% on that floor,” Durant said about Westbrook. “People dub us as the best two players on the team; so of course, you’re going to see some tension. Within our group, we bounce ideas off each other. Sometimes I say, ‘Now Russ, you might have to do it this way.’ We might talk about it for a while and vice versa, but at the end of the day, we all want to win. He wants to win, I want to win. We support each other. I’m excited he’s on our team because he’s a freak of nature.”
Even Brooks weighed in on the subject.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal. As any team I’ve ever been on – and I’ve been on some very good teams, I’ve been on a championship team, I’ve been on some very bad teams – you’re with each other so long, and there’s going to be parts of the season that one of them will get irritated with one another.
“That’s just basketball,” he continued. “There’s no issues. Our guys are competitive. We want them to be competitive with each other. There’s nothing really to talk about. They’re great teammates. Someone gave me a stat: Russell passed Kevin the ball more than any other combo in the league for his assists. If you don’t like your teammate, there’s ways that you don’t have to give him the ball.
“A lot of teammates did that with me,” said the always self-deprecating coach.
Could this be the year Durant wins the league’s Most Valuable Player award?
“Some lofty expectations,” he answered. “I just try to go to work every day…try to be a professional…try to be the best player I can be and work as hard as I can. I’ve got to live with the results whether it’s MVP or not MVP. Hopefully my time comes for that, but the way we play as a team dictates everything as far as individual accolades. I can’t worry about that.”
We asked Westbrook if he had set any personal goals for the season.
“Yes,” he answered without skipping a beat. “Just to make my team win. That’s my personal goal. Just coming out every night and make sure the Thunder wins at the end of the buzzer.”