The Oklahoma City Thunder are far from prepared to fade into the background after Kevin Durant's stinging departure to the Golden State Warriors, and plans have begun to rebuild them into a contender.
With superstar point guard and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook currently heading for free agency next summer, there was a danger that the Western Conference finalists would turn into a lottery team with three of their core players - Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka - heading for the exit.
It has been widely speculated that the Thunder would try and trade Westbrook in order to get some value for their star, but according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the franchise are thinking the exact opposite. The report says:
"The Oklahoma City Thunder rescinded the qualifying offer to guard Dion Waiters on Monday, making him an unrestricted free agent, league sources told The Vertical.
"The Thunder still hold Waiters’ Bird Rights and could re-sign him to a deal, but several teams with salary-cap space – including Brooklyn and Philadelphia – make it unlikely that Waiters returns to the Thunder.
"For Westbrook, the most likely scenario for a renegotiation would be to use the Thunder’s cap space to guarantee he will stay under contract with the Thunder through the 2017-18 season. This would give Oklahoma City the chance to recruit one of its top targets – 2017 free agent and Oklahoma native Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers – to partner with Westbrook, league sources said."
This is an interesting narrative for sure. First of all, Wojnarowski is rarely wrong, if ever. Secondly, Griffin is from Oklahoma and would probably welcome a fresh start in his hometown at this juncture, especially where he can lead the team.
Lastly, Griffin has been rumoured to be on the trade block for a while. Last term marked the first of the power forward's NBA career in which he wasn't named to the All-Star team, as he missed all but 35 games due to injury and a suspension levied against him after he punched a Clippers member of staff and broke his hand.
However, without Westbrook at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, convincing a superstar like Griffin to make the move in free agency becomes a very difficult task. All eyes are on Russ.