Russell Westbrook happy to stay in OKC
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook hopes his decision to make a long-term commitment to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder will do away with the rumors of a rift between him and fellow All-Star Kevin Durant.
"I wish it would have never started," Westbrook said Sunday at a news conference to formally announce his five-year, $80 million contract extension.
"Me and Kevin get along great on and off the floor, and now we're going to be together for at least five more years. Hopefully we can stay together."
Suggestions that Westbrook and Durant weren't the best of friends surfaced during the playoffs last season, when he ended up with more shots than the two-time NBA scoring champion in several games. Now, every disagreement that occurs in the public eye gets magnified.
With the end of his rookie contract approaching at the conclusion of the season, he said he saw no reason to look anywhere but Oklahoma City -- and certainly not because of Durant.
"Why wouldn't you want to play with the best scorer who might be the best player in the league on your team?" Westbrook said.
Westbrook, a budding star in his own right, helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference finals last season while being chosen to the All-Star team for the first time.
He could have waited until his current deal expired and then tested the free-agent market, forcing Oklahoma City to match any offer from another team.
He'll already be handsomely paid but he could have stood to make even more, particularly if he made the all-NBA first team this year after being a second-team selection last season.
"That wasn't my objective," Westbrook said. "My objective was to find a spot where I'm happy and where I have opportunities to win championships."
Westbrook said he has felt appreciated by the franchise since general manager Sam Presti, acting on advice from assistant GM Troy Weaver, made him a surprising No. 4 pick in the 2008 draft.
He had a rocky start plagued by turnovers, but has since developed into one of the league's most dynamic point guards while making his team a title contender.
Westbrook ranked among the top 15 in the NBA in points, assists and steals last season and he's ninth in the league this season with 20.6 points per game.
"How can you not love this guy? The guy plays with so much passion, he plays with toughness, he plays for the team and he's improved every month since we've had him," coach Scott Brooks said.
The first part of Westbrook's career was marked by the team's relocation from Seattle, between draft day and the start of the regular season, and then the firing of P.J. Carlesimo early in his rookie year.
Soon after, he was thrust into the starting lineup and has stayed there ever since.
"The guy is so resilient. It's really kind of hard to keep him down, and he just continues to come back and work," Presti said. "It's incredibly impressive to me."
Westbrook said it wasn't a tough decision for him to stay in the only place he's called home in the NBA and there's "nowhere else" he'd want to play.
"For every player in the league, you want to be somewhere where you're wanted. I wanted to be somewhere where I had great support," Westbrook said. "This is the spot for me."
"Why would you want to look around when you've got all this support and everybody is behind you and supporting you from day one," Westbrook added. "I took that into deep consideration, and that wasn't a hard answer to give myself."
Westbrook said he didn't take into consideration how his signing would impact whether Oklahoma City will be able to afford to keep starting power forward Serge Ibaka and top reserve James Harden, who both will be in his position a year from now as potential restricted free agents.
"I'm not sure how that's going to work, but I know that now we have a great team and hopefully we can keep everybody together," Westbrook said.
The bills could pile up quickly for the Thunder, who already are paying Durant a maximum contract for the next four seasons. So far, they've been willing to shell out the money necessary to keep the team's core members for the next few years.
"Keeping Russell as a part of our organization moving forward does a lot of things for us," Presti said. "It allows him to continue his development with the organization with which he started. It also gives us continued stability. And nothing really changes in terms of what our vision is for the organization: This is just another step in that direction."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press