Russell Westbrook and James Harden both signed contract extensions last summer, and they could do it again next July. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets superstars will be grandfathered into eligibility for the "super-max" contracts that will be available with the new designated player veteran exception, via The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski:
This summer, Westbrook could sign a five-year, $219 million contract extension that would begin in the 2018-19 season. He'll make $28.5 million in 2017-18.
Harden could sign for an additional four years and $171 million starting in 2019 - on top of the $58.7 million owed to him in the next two years of his current contract.
Westbrook and Harden are two of the NBA's top Most Valuable Player candidates and could join a class of Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins that is eligible to earn extensions starting at $36 million a season.
The NBA and Players Association negotiated the addendum to the new Designated Player Veteran Exception to grant Harden and Westbrook 2017 eligibility despite both signing contract extensions in the summer of 2016. Under normal CBA rules, players aren't allowed to sign extensions in consecutive years.
The league and union worked together on the Harden/Westbrook arrangement with the belief that neither player, nor the Rockets or Thunder, should be punished for honoring the spirit of the rules: encouraging players to remain with current teams on contract extensions. When those deals were negotiated to raise the players' salaries and add extra years to the contracts, the teams and players were unaware that the new CBA would offer such substantial financial rewards for waiting another year.
If the league is serious about incentivizing stars to re-sign with their teams, it's common sense to let the Thunder and Rockets have a chance to retain their top guys. This is especially true in the case of Westbrook -- he is considered the more likely of the two to sign a new deal, according to The Vertical, and he is a year closer to being able to leave otherwise. Harden has a player option in the summer of 2019, but Westbrook's extension allows him to opt out in 2018, essentially making next season a contract year.
The Thunder are in an interesting position. In extending the contracts of Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams, they sacrificed financial flexibility next summer. Those guys, however, are part of their core, and locking them up could go a long way in convincing Westbrook to stick around. The question is whether or not that was enough, or if general manager Sam Presti will need to do something else -- an Enes Kanter trade, perhaps? -- to improve the roster so Westbrook is willing to put pen to paper again. Regardless, merely having the opportunity to negotiate with Westbrook again is fantastic news for the franchise. With the amount of money he can make under the new CBA, it will be difficult for him to say no.