Considering Russell Westbrook's future after Kevin Durant broke his Thunder buddy's heart

Ben Rohrbach
Ball Don't Lie
To think this glowing relationship between <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4244/" data-ylk="slk:Kevin Durant">Kevin Durant</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4390/" data-ylk="slk:Russell Westbrook">Russell Westbrook</a> won’t ever be the same. (J. Pat Carter/Getty Images)
To think this glowing relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook won’t ever be the same. (J. Pat Carter/Getty Images)

 

If you were Robin, and Batman was like, “Hey, man, it’s been fun, but I think I’m going to go and join the Avengers now, so I guess I’ll see you later,” you’d probably be like, “Hey, what the hell, Batman?”

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So, you can imagine how Russell Westbrook feels after Thunder teammate Kevin Durant left their Bat-cave in Oklahoma City for the global domination tour that’s about to be the Golden State Warriors.

Not that Westbrook would ever consider himself Robin to Durant’s Batman, but you get the point.

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Durant gets the point, too, since the 2014 NBA MVP said as much to Chinese media outlet Sina (via Bay Area News Group’s Diamond Leung) during a barnstorming tour through Asia on behalf of Nike, when asked how he broke the news of his abrupt departure to his partner in Oklahoma City for eight years.

“I just told him. I just let him know how I felt. Obviously, our relationship probably won’t ever be the same again, but it’s something I wanted to do and I expressed that to him. Hopefully, he respected it.”

We go live to Westbrook, probably, wherever he is, mostly likely in the Bat-cave trying on his Bat-suit:

For what it’s worth, Durant expanded on his new role as the NBA’s latest super-villain in Oakland.

“It’s difficult, because I’m not used to this much attention, but I’m getting used to it. Obviously, people don’t like me right now, but it is what it is. I can’t please them all. I’ve got to still go out there and handle my business. They’re not going to get up at 9 o’clock in the morning and work on their game for me. I’ve got to do all of that on my own, so I can’t really worry about people on the outside and the noise that’s going on, because I’ve gotta go to sleep at night, I’ve got to get up and I’ve got to perform. I’ve got to do all that stuff, so it is what it is. Once we start playing games, I’ll feel a little better, but right now it’s definitely a change. It’s a different vibe going around, but I’ll get used to it.”

Forgetting for a moment Durant just said, “They’re not going to get up at 9 o’clock in the morning,” as if that’s an early wake-up call for his naysayers, the fact remains Westbrook is now among those “people on the outside” of Durant’s everyday existence, so the question becomes: What now for Russ?

An informed Howard Beck attempted to answer that question for Bleacher Report, in one long breath.

“Well, it’s not altogether clear yet.  I don’t think anybody knows for certain what Russell Westbrook wants to do or intends to do next summer, but that said: Let’s just say there’s a very strong suspicion — a strong belief — among rival GMs that Russell Westbrook is not intending to stay, that he would leave next summer when he hits free agency, and because of that the logical next step is that [Thunder GM] Sam Presti, who is always ahead of the curve on these things, will look to trade him.

“Now, I don’t know that’s happening right this moment, but if we know anything about Sam Presti and the Thunder — how proactive they’ve been in past years, trading [James] Harden the year before they had to, trading Reggie Jackson at the first sign of trouble, trading Serge Ibaka on draft night a year ahead of his free agency — we know if there’s any concern that Westbrook (will) leave that they are going to be aggressive. And what I’m hearing here in Las Vegas from some GMs is that, not only do they think that Westbrook will get traded, that it will be sooner rather than later, probably before the season starts, and that the most likely destination right now would be the Boston Celtics.

“Now, that’s not surprising. Anybody who’s been following the NBA the last couple years, we know Boston has been loading up on assets, a ton of picks — including all those great picks from the Brooklyn Nets — they’ve got a bunch of young players, they have the ability to create a package that could get Westbrook there without giving up key pieces. They could still have Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, who they just signed, hold onto Jae Crowder, presumably, and add Westbrook to that.

“Because that’s the concern or the challenge for any team trying to trade for Westbrook. Not only do you have to be concerned about his free agency next summer, and you’re going to want some assurance that he would want to stay, but you’ve got to be able to trade for him while still having enough players for him to play with when he arrives.”

Got all that? It’s a load to process, because it’s a lot of self-described speculation from Beck, who we can safely assume is as plugged in as anyone with general managers at Las Vegas Summer League. The one thing we know for certain is Westbrook becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But that creates an issue for both the Thunder and any potential Westbrook suitors. Presti would be wise to acquire something in return for his lone remaining superstar, in order to avoid what happened with Durant again next summer, so long as he’s convinced the five-time All-Star will leave Oklahoma City. But he’d have to be absolutely convinced, because losing another superstar in his prime does not bode well for the Thunder. After all, if you can’t make it work with any of three perennial MVP candidates — Durant, Westbrook and Harden — then your future is bleak, my friend.

As for Westbrook’s potential suitors, Boston would absolutely be in the mix, and you can be sure Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will place the call. In fact, I’m sure he already has. The Celtics can offer any combination of Thomas, Crowder, Avery Bradley and/or Marcus Smart — all talented young players signed to relatively cheap long-term contracts — along with some of their picks, which include Brooklyn’s next two first-rounders. Presti will try to increase the pot, and Ainge will hold on to as many chips as possible, but few teams could match Boston’s best package.

But the C’s, like any potential Westbrook suitor, would need assurance he would stay in one place, and such an assurance would be hard to come by. Depending on how desperate Westbrook would be to leave OKC, if he wants to become a free agent, there’s nothing stopping him from becoming one in a summer when any number of teams will be offering an even more profitable max contract. It’s long been rumored Westbrook would like to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, whether it’s the Clippers or Lakers, and Ainge would be weary to give up a potential top-five pick or any of the aforementioned players for a one-year Westbrook rental, only to see him leave for the Lakers.

Such is the dilemma facing Westbrook, the Thunder and every rumored suitor between now and the time he’s either traded or becomes a free agent in 2017. Get your popcorn ready, because another summer superhero blockbuster could be on the horizon. Only this time Durant isn’t co-starring.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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