End of an era
Being an Oklahoma City Thunder fan sucks. Every year the question, “What disaster is coming this year?” is asked, and every year it’s answered. This year there was a massive reply for Thunder fans and this offseason will go down in the books as the worst one for Oklahoma City yet.
Paul George left-hooked OKC after demanding a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers which saw the Thunder bring in a massive haul of draft picks, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Then, the knockout blow came a few weeks later with the departure of Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and some draft assets.
The Westbrook move hurt most Thunder fans more than Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State. The question for the Thunder isn’t, “What disaster is coming this year?” The worst has already happened. The question to be asked now is, “What’s next?”
It couldn’t be any more obvious that the first rebuild is imminent for the Thunder, but it doesn’t seem to be happening right away. After no trades could be found for Paul, he embraced returning to his NBA beginnings in OKC, where he played for the New Orleans Hornets after they were relocated to Oklahoma City in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
With Paul on the roster, the Thunder could still snag a lower-seeded playoff spot. That doesn’t scream, “Rebuild.” Of course there is the possibility that Sam Presti is clinging on to hopes that Paul plays well and increases his trade stock for better assets from him closer to the trade deadline.
Paul’s contract isn’t up until the end of the 2021-22 season. If he finishes out his contract with OKC he’d provide a great veteran presence for the young guys on the team.
A Bright Future?
OKC has plenty of young talent on its roster and loads of draft picks going into the future.
Gilgeous-Alexander is only a second-year player going into this season. His rookie averages with the Clippers show a lot of potential. Starting in 73 games, he averaged 10.8 points per game and 3.3 assists. Under Paul’s wing, the 21-year-old could become a key piece to OKC’s roster.
Terrance Ferguson is another key player who could really benefit from Paul being in Oklahoma City. Ferguson showed glimpses of the player he could be with a few notable games in the 18-19 season. On Jan. 3, Ferguson scored 24 points while shooting 75 percent from the field against the Los Angeles Lakers. On Jan. 10, Ferguson’s performance against the San Antonio Spurs saw him score 21 points on seven 3-pointers. With more touches, those numbers could be consistent for Ferguson. Also, with Russ and PG gone that could become a reality.
Steven Adams’ offensive game could become deadly with Paul being his pick-and-roll facilitator. Both players have made careers out of pick-and-roll offense.
Regardless of if Paul stays with OKC or not, the Thunder won’t be winning a championship anytime soon (at least no rational NBA fan would predict that).
Assets, Assets, Assets
Presti never fails to amaze with trades and his haul for PG was no exception. From the exchange with L.A., the Thunder now own the Clippers’ first round draft picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026. They also have two first round picks from that same package for 2023 and 2024 that originally belonged to the Miami Heat.
OKC acquired two first round selections for the 2024 and 2026 draft from the Rockets in the Westbrook exchange. Jerami Grant was also moved to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for a first round pick in 2020.
If OKC decides to go into full rebuild mode and trade Paul mid-season, then the Thunder are stacked with draft assets for the next decade.
The Sure Future
It would be stunning for the Thunder to be anything more than a bottom-feeding NBA team for the next few seasons. If OKC is a playoff team, it isn’t a championship contender. The future really isn’t anymore clear-cut than it has been for the past decade. However, one thing is for sure, the worst has already happened and the franchise can only go up from here.
Side note: The Thunder are your 2029 NBA Champions!
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