What's next for Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder?

This was always going to be the next question for the Thunder and their point guard, even if Kevin Durant decided to stay in OKC. Instead of trying to figure out if they can get both players to re-sign in 2017, Durant is now going to the Golden State Warriors and Westbrook becomes a looming predicament breathing down Sam Presti's neck.

The Thunder can take some time to reevaluate their situation and either try to get Westbrook to hammer out a contract extension, believe they've created enough goodwill with him during his career to earn his trust in putting a title contending team around him, or trade the superstar in advance of free agency in 2017 to get the best package of assets possible.

Working out a contract extension isn't likely to happen. Contract extensions for star players have become a thing of the past. It's much more lucrative to become a free agent and either sign with a team or re-sign with your incumbent employer. Westbrook going this route would be the most generous and charitable thing he could do for the Thunder, but it's probably not realistic.

Because of that, let's take a look at what could be next for Westbrook and the Thunder.

Keep Westbrook and ride this out to free agency in 2017

Why this make sense for the Thunder: Throughout all of the naysayers and people questioning whether or not Westbrook was the right fit next to Durant, the Thunder have remained consistent. There were no real trade rumors. There weren't real notions of discontent with his style of play. There was only the franchise embracing him for what he is and marveling at the player and the person he was evolving into during his years as the point guard (this after people said he wasn't a point guard and he became a point guard for them. People said he wasn't a superstar and he became that for them too.)

It's this loyalty and respect for their star guard that should fuel some confidence in bringing him back to the Thunder when he becomes a free agent in 2017. A big part of that is the team they've already put around him, which was deeper and more talented than ever before Durant's departure. The Thunder have legitimate weapons to put alongside Westbrook as they convince him it will be different this time around than the postseason-less 2014-15 season when Durant missed 55 games and Westbrook couldn't quite get his team into the playoffs.

Steven Adams became a bit of a playoff star and has an extremely bright future as a big man in this league. They've acquired Victor Oladipo to be a dynamic backcourt mate for Westbrook as they potentially terrorize guards around the league. Young players like Enes Kanter, Andre Roberson, Cameron Payne, and Domantas Sabonis all have valuable places within this team construct. Is it enough to make up for the void left by Durant? No. That's too tall of a task.

However, it's enough to get to the playoffs in 2017, if the team can remain healthy. It's enough to have flexibility for next year's free agency class when they can try to bring a star back to OKC to pair with Westbrook. And it could be enough to convince Westbrook that this is still the place to believe in, just like they believed in him.

Why this make sense for Westbrook: For years now, Westbrook's relentless style of play led people to question if he was the right second star for the Thunder and whether or not everybody would be better off with Russ on his own team. He isn't a traditional point guard but he's the unwavering force that attacks an opponent in both ways that can be overwhelming for a defense and ways that can become a detriment for his own team. He attacks at all times when he has the ball. He never gives you a break on offense, unless he pulls up for a 3-pointer in transition. And even then, you have to be aware of the offensive rebound as he follows his own shot.

For Westbrook, he can show that having his own team is worthy of his so-called stardom. He can prove that he has always been his own man and player on the court, and that he doesn't need Durant around to be successful. In doing this, he'd be committing to the idea of the Thunder being his team. This wouldn't be an attack on his former partnership with Durant. It would be a trial for the trope that was always nagging at his career and completely out of his control.

He plays his way and his way works. He doesn't need to escape Durant to be his own player while moving to the Los Angeles Lakers or another big market. Westbrook is his own market just like he is his own director of his career. And by assuming that role, in a very Kobe Bryant-esque way (who is a hero of his), in Oklahoma City with a still very talented, young core, Westbrook can command the narrative and success of his career in his own way like he's always been able to do.

The loyalty to the Thunder comes with a talented team that can easily add the necessary pieces around him to compete. His stardom continues to transcend market. And there's nothing we can do about manipulating the way he goes about his business on and off the court. This is who he is and he can prove it.

Move Westbrook now and get a head start on rebuilding

Why this make sense for the Thunder: To lose two of the five best players in the world for nothing in consecutive offseasons would be devastating. Apocalyptic, even. Losing Durant is a huge blow and losing Westbrook would be even worse because they'd be left with zero stars on the roster. Maybe the Durant subtraction creates the Westbrook departure in 2017. Or maybe Durant is leaving because he didn't feel his partner in crime on the court would be around past next season. Whatever the causality of Durant leaving and then Westbrook leaving, Sam Presti can't risk having that happen to his franchise.

Because of that, you get ahead of the story. You get ahead of the transaction. And you let everybody in the NBA know that Westbrook can be had now and you can acquire his Bird rights with a season to convince him that this is the long-term residence for him by re-signing. While it becomes an inherent risk because there is no guarantee of Westbrook sticking around, you're still acquiring one of the best players in the league and a monetary advantage in keeping him around. If you don't acquire this supernova on the court, somebody else will.

You can pray and hope that you're his ideal landing spot in free agency in 2017, but you don't want to miss out on the chance to convince him over the next 12 months. So you offer up picks, young players and anything else the Thunder can realistically demand in exchange for this MVP candidate. There will be a bidding war but it's a war worth partaking in.

The Thunder know that, so they set themselves up for a quick rebuild. They already have this good young core. Add multiple picks and young assets to it, bolstering your treasure chest of offers should another star become available on the market. You can create a Boston Celtics situation in the Western Conference where you're competitive while adding to your long-term stability and rebuild. It's the safest play with a year to go.

Why this make sense for Westbrook: If he has serious doubts about wanting to stay in OKC, letting the Thunder know now doesn't waste a year of his career as he tries to figure out the next stage. He can let Presti and the Thunder know that he's likely to move on a year from now and give it a win-win for everybody. It would be similar to what Kevin Love did with the Minnesota Timberwolves, when they moved him for a package centering around No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in 2014.

As stars have learned during the past decade-plus, the legacy talk can consume how people view your career. Guys can't really afford to punt on a year, especially during their prime years. Westbrook will turn 28 in November, and while that's not knocking on the door of the AARP, it is a big year in most stars' careers. Westbrook doesn't have anything to prove in this next season leading up to free agency. He's getting a max contract offer from any team hoping to upgrade their point guard position no matter how well he plays in KD's wake.

He could probably lose a pinkie finger and still end up getting a max deal. He's been through the rigmarole of trying to lift the Thunder to the playoffs and this time he'll be doing without Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant. Is that the way to spend your ninth season in the NBA? Or do you want to try to get to your next team right away and give everybody a good outlook on the situation?

That's up for Westbrook to determine as the Thunder figure out their next step.

The Russell Westbrook question will need an answer soon. USATSI