Oklahoma City Thunder: Another First Round Exit for the Thunder, so now what?

On Tuesday night the Oklahoma City Thunder suffered their third straight first round playoff series loss. Damian Lillard was able to knock down a contested 37 foot shot, sidestepping past Paul George and Russell Westbrook into the second round. As soon as the buzzer sounded the questions immediately started swirl around the Thunder locker room. Is Russell Westbrook at the end of his prime, and on the decline? Does Westbrook have the worst contract in the NBA? Can you win a championship with Russell Westbrook? Is it time that the Thunder turn the page and move on from Billy Donovan? All are fair questions that deserve answers so lets dive in.

Is Russell Westbrook on the Decline?

Russell Westbrook is the best athlete to ever play the point guard position. He is the perfect combination of size, length, explosiveness, and quickness. He has the ability to take a defensive rebound make it down the court in three dribbles and finish at the rim with a ferocity we have rarely seen from the point guard position. He is coming off a season where averaged a triple double for the third straight season. He is the first player to achieve this amazing, difficult statistical feat.

What was painfully obvious throughout the season was that it appeared that Westbrook had lost some of his elite athleticism. He was not getting the same lift on his layups. He was not finishing above the rim with the same consistency that were accustom to seeing from him. In the game the other night with the game tied at 115 and with 20 seconds left he drove to the basket against Al-Farouq Aminu and was not able to elevate high enough to finish the layup. The fact of the matter is Westbrook will turn 31 on November 12, and just maybe he is moving into the next stage of his hall of fame career, and coming out of his prime.

Does Westbrook Have the Worst Contract in the NBA?

Russell Westbrook just completed the first year of a five year $205 million dollar contract. He made $35,654,150 this past season, and he is due to make $38,178,000 next season, $41,006,000 in 2020-21, $43,949,000 in 2021-22, and a player option of $ 46,662,000 in 2022-23. I’m reporting this now you can go ahead and lock him in for that player option. Westbrook’s contract may not be the worst in the league, but it is near the top. With his age and past injuries to his knee it is hard to envision any team trading for him.

Plus with Westbrook being a fan favorite would the Thunder be willing to to trade him?I think if they a smart they should, and even though he may be coming out of his prime I believe he still has a lot in the tank. General Manager Sam Presti has routinely been able to trade bad contracts for good to great players such as Paul George. But Westbrook’s contract just might be un-tradeable even by one of the best GM’s in the league Sam Presti.

Can You Win a Championship with Russell Westbrook?

This question has been asked going as far back as when the Thunder made the NBA finals back in 2011-2012. The question was framed a little bit different at the time. The original question was can you when a championship with Westbrook as your point guard and primary ball handler? I said no back then, but the Thunder ultimately said yes and decided to got with Westbrook long term, and they traded James Harden to Houston. In fairness to the Thunder nobody could imagine that Harden would turn into and MVP player and one of the best offensive players the league has ever seen.

Over the next several years the Thunder would make the conference finals twice, lose in the conference semis once, and miss the playoffs completely in 2014-15. That season Kevin Durant missed 55 games due to a Jones fracture in his foot. At this point people really started to question could you win a championship with Russell Westbrook. With Durant lost for most of the season the burden to lead the Thunder fell squarely on Westbrook’s shoulders. Instead of a point guard that made their teammates better, Westbrook looked more like a shooting guard more concerned with hunting his own shot instead of playing making for his teammates.

When Durant returned the following season the talk was to try and have Westbrook play off the ball more. The Thunder should bring in a point guard, or someone who doesn’t mind differing to Westbrook and Durant. This sounded like a good idea in theory, but the thunder had no one to fill that spot. Harden was now a member of the Rockets, and often times when he was in the game he would handle the ball handling responsibilities and Westbrook would play off the ball. Eric Maynor was a promising point guard for the Thunder, but suffered a torn ACL, and never made it back to the level he was playing at prior to the injury. So the Thunder had no choice, but to leave Westbrook at the point guard position.

Westbrook would continue to turn the ball over in crucial moments during the game. Often times these turnovers would come late in ball games. He would take ill-advised shots something he still does today. After blowing a 3-1 lead to the Golden State Warriors back in 2015-16 Durant left the Thunder and joined the Warriors. Durant will never admit to this in public, but I am willing to bet that he grew tired of Westbrook’s erratic play and decided to leave. Westbrook would go on to win the MVP in 2016-17 becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for an entire season. Although the Thunder made the playoffs as a 6th seed Westbrook was an one man band who seemed more interested in padding his triple double stats, than playing winning basketball. So now with three straight first round exits the clear answer to the question can you win a championship with Russell Westbrook is a resounding NO!

Should the Thunder Move on from Billy Donovan?

The Thunder have two contracts on the books that are going to be tough to move Russell Westbrook’s contract and Steven Adams contract. Adams is due over $52 million dollars over the next two seasons, and with there being no demand for a big man making that kind of money, it is going to be nearly impossible to trade Adams. With that being said the Thunder seem stuck with the core of their roster for the foreseeable future. The only logical change is always the head coach in this situation.

Donovan has been in OKC for four seasons, and has a record of 199-129 with a win percentage of 60%. His record is solid, and he is a good coach especially on the offensive end. He cannot be the problem in OKC the offense was the same uncreative static offense under Scott Brooks. Unfortunately for Donovan he probably is going to take the blame for this season and will probably be fired. For Donovan this may be a blessing in disguise and he will land on his feet just fine. He should have no problem landing another head coaching job somewhere down the line.

Bottomline the Thunder have their work cut out for them this coming offseason. With three straight first round losses something definitely has to change. They do not want to waste the prime years of Paul George. The change will not be easy, and whatever route they chose as a franchise they better be cautious. Their decision as an organization could very well shape the future of pro basketball in Oklahoma City.