In the wake of Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for golden pastures, the Thunder have to seriously consider whether how they can possibly afford to lose BOTH of their stars in a span of twelve months for nothing.
Next summer, Russell Westbrook will have a chance to become a free agent and right now it's hard to see why he would want to stay in Oklahoma long term. Not that the Thunder have a bad team. It's just they no longer have a transcendent team, and that's the only reason a small market like Oklahoma can retain its stars.
GM Sam Presti tried to load up in the past year, even building a team that had a 3-1 lead on the Golden State Warriors and had most of the league's brightest minds thinking the Thunder had solved Golden State by being able to defend them with long, active bigs that included 7-foot Steven Adams, 6'10" Serge Ibaka and the probably 7-foot Kevin Durant on the front line.
Presti even tried to double down by courting Al Horford to join the team to take Serge Ibaka's place in the lineup to make them even longer and better defensively, while adding more offense as well.
But then Horford chose the Celtics. And Kevin Durant surprised everyone by going against his prior comments and joining the team he couldn't beat.
Barring a last minute "sike!" like DeAndre Jordan pulled on Dallas last year, the Thunder have to sit there and ponder a future without their future Hall of Famer. They already proved that a Durant-less lineup couldn't make the playoffs in 2014-15. Westbrook carried them on his shoulders back into playoff contention, but they faded down the stretch and lost the last spot to the Jazz.
After another year of that, you might just see Russell Westbrook looking west for his next destination. Would he sign with the Lakers, to go back home to Cali? The Lakers are in worse shape than most NBA teams, even after drafting DeAngelo Russell, Julius Randle and now Brandon Ingram the last three years.
Could the Thunder afford to take the chance that he will just re-sign with them next summer?
And if they don't want to roll those dice, will they trade him right away and let another team fret for the next year over his imminent unpredictable decision?
Presti doesn't want to trade Westbrook, but if he feels backed into a corner, he will chase young players and draft picks. The Phoenix Suns reportedly talked with the Atlanta Hawks about Paul Millsap, and they come armed with prospects galore, extra point guards and two future Miami picks.
After the Suns inspired draft just 10 days ago - has it really been only 10 days !?!? - they now have a bevy of high end youth as well future high picks with which to negotiate.
The Suns also have a replacement point guard already under long term contract. Eric Bledsoe is clearly the better player, but has balky knees. Brandon Knight is starting quality too, except he's just not the same kind of lead guard as either of them. But hey, a young starting point guard under long term contract might be just what OKC wants.
The Suns could easily put together an enticing package for Westbrook.
But the question is: should they? Should the Suns even look at Westbrook?
He is only one year older than Bledsoe, and is a sure fire All-Star, and could be a ticket-seller like the Suns have not had in years.
And, if paired with Devin Booker and one of Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss, Westbrook might just see a nice future in the Valley of the Sun. Many players see Phoenix as a good living destination, and it's only an hour from the beach in Cali.
It's something to think about.