It has been a wild offseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Four-time scoring champion and one-time NBA MVP Kevin Durant left town, but Russell Westbrook is staying. And he's a +450 third-favorite at Ladbrokes to win the 2016-17 MVP Award.
Durant, Westbrook Went Against Expected Grain
I think if you had asked most NBA experts heading into the offseason, they would have told you they expected Durant to re-sign with the Thunder this offseason. After all, Kevin Durant is somewhat of a low-key guy who seemed to enjoy living in small-town Oklahoma City. He doesn't seek the limelight, especially off the court.
By contrast, most thought that Westbrook would leave OKC when he became a free agent in the summer of 2017. Westbrook is into fashion and is a Los Angeles guy. He seemed a perfect fit for Hollywood and to be the next face of the glamorous Lakers.
Yet on July 4, Durant announced he was signing with the Golden State Warriors, the team that the Thunder had in a 3-1 series hole in this past season's Western Conference Finals. Durant was widely ridiculed for essentially choosing to "if you can't beat them, join them." You never saw guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or Michael Jordan leave town because they couldn't get past a better rival.
With Durant gone, the Thunder were relegated to a non-contender. Thus it was expected that GM Sam Presti would shop Westbrook around the league and get the best package he could or risk getting nothing when Westbrook left next summer.
Coincidence or not, exactly one month after Durant's shocking news came something equally shocking: Westbrook signed a three-year deal worth potentially $85.7 million with Oklahoma City. When Westbrook was asked why he signed the deal now rather than have all the power in free agency, he said: : "There's no need to wait if you know where you want to be."
Let's not crown Westbrook a saint. Part of the allure was his salary next season will jump from $17.8 million to the maximum $26.5 million. He would then earn the max again in the 2017-18 season and hold a player option for the following year. So really it's a two-year deal, but it's still a coup for Presti.
Are the Thunder title contenders with a core group of Westbrook, new addition Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams? Probably not, and they are +5000 on NBA odds to win it all. But OKC could create enough cap room next summer to potentially sign Clippers free agent Blake Griffin -- who happens to be an Oklahoma native.
Get Ready For Many Triple-Doubles
For next season's MVP, the usual candidates are the favorites on Ladbrokes' NBA picks: two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry of Golden State at +275 and Cleveland's LeBron James, a four-time MVP, at +333. No shock there.
But I have a feeling Westbrook is going to put up crazy statistics and is great value at +450. Last season while sharing the marquee with Durant, Westbrook averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists, and 7.8 rebounds. He became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds in a season. Westbrook also had 18 triple-doubles, the most in the NBA and tying Magic (1981-82) for the most triple-doubles in the past 40 years. Westbrook's 18th triple-double came in an incredible 18 minutes against the Lakers.
Will Westbrook average a triple-double the entire season? No. Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson is the only player to do that, putting up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists in 1961-62 with the Cincinnati Royals. Robertson also had a record 41 triple-doubles overall that season.
When Durant missed a large chunk of the 2014-15 season because of foot trouble, Westbrook played a total of 40 games without him and averaged 30.7 points, 9.1 assists, and 7.7 rebounds. 5Dimes also has an NBA prop on whether Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring, which is +150. Westbrook has ranked first or second in the NBA in fast-break points per game in each of the last four seasons, and he's absolutely going to dominate the ball in that regard this year because OKC will struggle more in the half court without Durant. There's no question that Westbrook's assists will go down from last season because Durant won't be on the end of many of them. But Westbrook's scoring will skyrocket and his rebounding should stay about the same.
The one concern about Westbrook as MVP is that the Thunder might just be a 46-win team or so. Will that be good enough for an MVP?
Free NBA Picks: I do like Westbrook for the scoring title and MVP. Curry's numbers will go down with Durant on the Warriors. James, meanwhile, is going to take it fairly easy in the regular season as he will be an old (in NBA playing time years) 32 in December.