Rumor: Recent play of Russell Westbrook makes it ‘much more likely’ Kevin Durant gets traded next year

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Kevin Durant will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of next season, and since he’s one of the game’s best players, that means speculation will run wild as to whether or not he’ll re-sign in Oklahoma City, or choose to play somewhere else.

In fact, it already has.

A former NBA executive (Tom Penn, now an analyst for ESPN) believes that because of the recent surge by Russell Westbrook — one in which he’s registered triple-doubles in five of his last six games — that makes it more likely that the Thunder will look to trade Durant next season if he doesn’t give an early indication that remaining with the team is a real possibility.

Penn, via ESPN’s SportsNation:

“I think this burst from Westbrook makes it much more likely that Durant ultimately gets traded next year. … Sam Presti has proven that he does not ever want to lose anybody for nothing. So he traded James Harden a year early to avoid a potential luxury tax problem a year later.

“The Kevin Durant drumbeat next year is going to be so loud because he will not commit early to Oklahoma City contractually because the rules are against that. He can’t get the same contract if he signs early as if he just goes to free agency and resigns.

So if Sam Presti doesn’t get that commitment, he’ll look to to trade Kevin Durant. And looking at the performance of Westbrook and the team around Westbrook will make it easier for him to do that potentially.”

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Despite how great Westbrook has been recently, OKC is just 3-3 in the last six games in which he’s played. His one-man wrecking crew act has been a joy to watch, but it hasn’t been enough on its own to push the Thunder to wins on anything resembling a consistent basis.

If the goal is to win a championship, Westbrook needs help. The Thunder already have the reigning MVP in Durant in place, and aren’t going to even listen to offers for him as long as there remains the slightest hope that he’ll re-sign.

Now, if Durant should go the Kevin Love route and declare to the team that he’s intent on leaving, then — and only then — will the Thunder look to trade him.

That, of course, isn’t likely to occur until after next season is finished, and is a long shot, at best — all of which makes speculating on what may or may not happen well over a year from now more than a bit silly.