The news that Russell Westbrook had agreed to a three-year, $85.7-million contract extension with Oklahoma City had to bring a big sigh of relief to the Thunder.
For the rest of the NBA, particularly the Lakers, it means that Westbrook will be off the market until 2018, when the player option in his deal kicks in and allows the point guard to become a free agent after that season.
Having lost small forward Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors and getting nothing in return, it would have been devastating to the Thunder franchise if Westbrook had been allowed to walk either as a free agent next summer or of OKC would have been forced to trade him.
Instead, the all-world talents of Westbrook keep the Thunder in position to knock on the playoff door in the super-competitive Western Conference.
It won’t be easy, considering that Utah has improved and Houston and Dallas remain competitive. New Orleans, Minnesota and Phoenix also have the players to push for a playoff spot.
And obviously the Thunder is not the same team that collapsed and blew a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals, losing that series to the Warriors.
Still, Westbrook is not one who backs down to a challenge, and his new dare is to help OKC be in the playoffs again in 2017.
He is the unquestioned leader of this young team, having to no longer share those duties with Durant.
So it will be up to Westbrook to be the dominant voice and not just the dominant player.
He no longer has Durant or Serge Ibaka, who was traded to the Orlando Magic, to help him along the way.
But Westbrook does have talented in players in centers Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and guard Victor Oladipo, who was acquired from the Magic in the multi-player deal this summer.
Westbrook is not only one of the top point guards in the NBA, he’s also one of the best players in the league.
A look at his numbers from last season is a testament to his greatness.
Westbrook last season tied Magic Johnson for the most triple-doubles in the last 50 years, with an NBA-high 18. That included six in March alone.
He was tied for eighth in the NBA in scoring (23.5), second in assists (10.4) and second in double-doubles (54). He also averaged 7.8 rebounds per game last season.
Westbrook was first-team All-NBA, and he has already been nominated by many sports bookies as one of the favorites to win the 2017 most valuable player award.
The Thunder already knows all of this and can now smile that Westbrook will be on Oklahoma City’s team, a team still hoping the former UCLA star can bring a championship to the city.