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Thunder rebuild to take time

OKLAHOMA CITY — Yosef Maaroof wanted one more Russell Westbrook memory in Oklahoma City.

When he learned Thursday night the Thunder were planning to send Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and draft picks, the 20-year-old Tulsa resident planned to make the two-hour drive to Oklahoma City with friends. They wanted to take videos and photos in front of the large images of Thunder players that adorn Chesapeake Energy Arena during the season, hoping Westbrook’s photo would still be up on Friday morning.

It wasn’t, so Maaroof came up with a different tribute. In a video he posted on Twitter, he put on the Westbrook jerseys he’s collected since 2012 , took them off one by one and laid them side by side in front of the arena. He wore 18 in the video, which has been viewed more than 85,000 times.

Maaroof said Westbrook has always been his favorite player. And the next addition to his collection will be a Rockets jersey.

“He was never perfect, but just the emotion he showed — he was very relatable, I feel like,” Maaroof said. “He was the underdog. People have always just not appreciated him the way they should have.”

With their emotional sparkplug gone, the Thunder, as we knew them, are no more. Westbrook was the last remaining player from the team that moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Paul George and others, all gone. Now Westbrook. The trade to Houston was made official Tuesday.

He spent his entire 11-year career with the Thunder, despite earlier chances to leave. With Westbrook, the Thunder won at least 45 games for 10 straight years and reached the Western Conference Finals four times, including a run to the NBA Finals in 2012.

“It’s a lot of heartbreak,” Maaroof said as he recalled recent conversations with his friends. “Not to be dramatic, but it really feels like someone died. We’re all 20 years old, so we all grew up with Russ, grew up with this team, pretty much through middle school, high school, college now.”

Simmons, 76ers ink deal

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers and All-Star guard Ben Simmons have agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension.

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Philadelphia is 101-58 in regular-season games when Simmons plays. He has had 22 triple-doubles in the past two seasons, tied for third most in the league with Denver’s Nikola Jokic and trailing Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (59) and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (26).

Simmons also has had 80 double-doubles over the past two seasons.

“Ben Simmons is an important piece of our core and he is one of the NBA’s most dynamic and talented young players,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said.

“It was a priority for our organization that we finalize a contract extension with Ben this summer. He was Rookie of the Year in his first season, an All-Star in his second and we expect him to continue grow and succeed for seasons to come. Ben positively impacts the game in so many ways and we look forward to continuing our championship pursuits with him as one of our leaders.”

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