July 13, 2019
In 2017, Russell Westbrook won the MVP award with a historic triple-double average. The basketball world was in awe of this physical specimen, and he went on to average a triple double the next season.
This is the same Westbrook that Kevin Durant left, amid rumblings of how it was difficult to win a championship with Russ because of what critics declared as his poor shot selection.
From an objective standpoint, Westbrook plays with an intensity that most coaches would drool over. He will contest each possession and run full throttle on both ends of the court. Most coaches would tell you that they have preached these to their wards countless times.
It actually takes a lot to motivate a player, especially at the NBA star level. Westbrook is ALWAYS motivated.
Paul George request
When Kevin Durant left OKC for Golden State, everybody blamed it on Russ. So it was a vindication of sorts when Paul George, who was long rumored to be California dreaming, shunned the Lakers offer and chose to stay with the Thunder.
After another first round exit, there were many rumblings of possible buyer’s remorse on PG’s part. They were eventually confirmed when he was eventually traded to the LA Clippers. The key there is that George secretly requested a trade (as opposed to Anthony Davis’ method), but the request came at the prodding of Kawhi Leonard.
Westbrook is now considered by critics as one of the worst contracts in the NBA. That is a highly subjective observation, but with the difficulty in finding a trade partner that the OKC Thunder experienced, the argument gained ground.
Two years ago, a trade between Westbrook and Chris Paul would have been a blockbuster. Teams would have lined up to get a player of their caliber. Now, it’s just an exchange of bad contracts that no other team found worthwhile.
How does a player move from MVP to bad contract? Is it the players’ fault or the team’s fault for offering them that much money?
The market dictates the rates
The NBA is a league of superstars, so success, specifically in the playoffs, have been linked to whether you have one or more of them. The last four surviving teams last season had superstars — and that is why they are superstars. Point is, they are hot commodities, that’s why one superstar can earn north of $40 million in a season when minimum contracts go for slightly over $2 million.
The OKC Thunder lost two superstars before, so they would pay any price not to lose the last one they drafted. A steep price, as Westbrook is due for 38, 41 and 44 million in the next three seasons.
Chris Paul is on the 41 and 44 million pay scale at age 34-35. This is why they have to pay the first round picks and the pick swaps. They acquired CP3 via trade and they knew it would be something they’ll eventually regret, but they were one step away from a title and CP3 could have been that step.
The logic is that if they don’t pay him, someone else will, and history is harsher on the team that let their championship window close without going all in.
You can’t fault the intention since it’s the same principle the Toronto Raptors used when they traded for Kawhi Leonard. Unfortunately for the Rockets, there can only be one champion.
This free agency showed a harsh NBA reality. Players will be paid more than they’re worth, especially for impatient teams. Sometimes, teams will pay players simply because they think they won’t be able to find equal replacement. The 5-year contracts of Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton could constrain their teams in the future.
Players will start out as bargains on their rookie contract, they will be appropriately paid as stars, but they will be bad contracts when they age and consume up to 40% of the team salary cap.
This is the natural evolution of players and their salaries, but the process has since accelerated. We have no choice but to accept it.
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