That kind of scenario -- where a team could lose a player without gaining any assets back -- could be in play yet again. Russell Westbrook's contract leaves him under team control for next season, but with a player option for the 2018-19 season, it's possible that he could opt out next summer and sign somewhere else.
With that in mind, the Thunder are trying to avoid a summer like they had with Durant, and are planning to offer Westbrook a monster extension the very second free agency begins on July 1. Via ESPN back in May:
"The rules are that you can't have that conversation until July 1, and you know, when that time comes, we'll sit down, we'll have conversations with him about what that opportunity presents," Presti said Monday at his end-of-season availability. "And you know, we're obviously hopeful that he remains really excited about being a part of this organization for the remainder of his career."
Because of changes in the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, Westbrook will be eligible for a Designated Player Extension -- a five-year "supermax" deal worth more than $200 million that will make him the highest-paid player in league history.
Westbrook signing that extension would be the best-case scenario, obviously, as he's coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple double. He is one of the league's best point guards. He's not the easiest player to build around, but it's certainly easier to build a championship-caliber team with Westbrook than without him.
The dilemma, though, comes if Westbrook decides not to sign the extension this summer, which would point to him likely opting out of the final year of his contract next offseason. What do the Thunder do then?
On Monday, ESPN's Royce Young noted the possibility that the Thunder would look to deal Westbrook if he doesn't agree to their extension offer. Via ESPN:
"What we could be looking at is the reigning MVP suddenly being on the trading block, because if he turns down this contract extension, the Thunder are then facing the reality they went through last summer, which is an MVP player, their franchise player, turning them down, and they cannot risk going into free agency and losing him for nothing."
It's a decision no one in the Thunder organization would ever want to make, but looking to move Westbrook if he turns down the extension would be in the best interest of the franchise. As we just saw with the Jimmy Butler deal, you're probably going to end up with cents-on-the-dollar value in return. That said, losing both Durant and Westbrook -- two of the league's top 10 players -- for absolutely nothing over a span of three years would be more devastating to the franchise than trading such a beloved player.