The Oklahoma City Thunder’s trade of Paul George opened the door for an ensuing trade of Russell Westbrook, but it sounds like the team was willing to part ways with their longtime franchise star well before then.
Jovan Buha and Sam Amick combined for an excellent, information-packed article in The Athletic on the Clippers’ signing of Kawhi Leonard. Acquiring George from the Thunder was an essential move in landing Leonard, so the reporters provided some background on that trade.
In the article, Buha and Amick reported that both Westbrook and George expressed their discontent to the Thunder around the time of the draft. They also said they were told the Thunder were willing to discuss a Westbrook trade prior to the draft.
From the article:
Yet one rival team indicated to The Athletic that the Thunder were willing to discuss the prospect of trading Westbrook leading into the draft, with that revelation seen as a sign that they were considering changes even before George made his move.
The way things unfolded with George asking for a trade and getting his way first created a perfect chance for Westbrook to be traded without it being as painful for the fan base; losing George was the gut punch and probably convinced most fans trading Westbrook was the next logical step. The George trade allowed both the Thunder and Westbrook a way out of their union without either taking the public beating they may have received otherwise.
Damian Lillard effectively ended an era of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise as we knew it with his walk-off shot to eliminate them from the playoffs.
Lillard hit a deep 37-foot 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to break a 115-115 tie with the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. In response to all the beef between his Portland Trail Blazers and the Thunder, Lillard gave a wave to OKC after making the shot. As if the shot wasn’t impressive enough, it also gave him an even 50 points in the game. The shot and Game 5 effort were true testaments to his ability and standing in the league.
Lillard joined the Sports Business Radio Podcast for an interview published on Tuesday. They were talking about the evolution of “Dame Time” and brought up the shot that ended the Thunder.
“What can I say? That was for Seattle,” Lillard said of the shot, while laughing.
The elimination marked the third straight year the Thunder lost in the first round of the playoffs. The team was capped out and couldn’t make many offseason moves, but that doesn’t mean the franchise didn’t change. Paul George requested a trade and was dealt to the Clippers. Russell Westbrook was later sent to Houston. Now a team that had 10 straight winning seasons is looking at their first rebuild since moving to Oklahoma City. SuperSonics fans meanwhile suffered through three bad seasons in a row to end the team’s time in Seattle, and Oklahoma City got to enjoy the benefits when they turned things around.
As Dame said, that was for Seattle.
Chris Paul’s contract will likely ensure that he starts the season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on Wednesday’s edition of The Jump that there is little momentum towards a trade right now, and Paul is likely to open the regular season with Oklahoma City.
— NBA The Jump Fanpage (@NBATheJumpFP) July 17, 2019
— NBA The Jump Fanpage (@NBATheJumpFP) July 17, 2019
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski essentially said the same thing on Twitter, adding that both Paul and the Thunder believe a year together could prove beneficial.
Story filed to ESPN: Oklahoma City’s discussions to move nine-time All-Star guard Chris Paul onto a new destination are parked and an increasing expectation exists that he will start the season with the Thunder.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 17, 2019
OKC has been working with Paul and his representatives on finding a trade, but nothing is materializing so deep into summer free agency, sources said. Both sides believe there are benefits to Paul, 34, playing out the year with the Thunder. https://t.co/LjHCdLPZVg
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 17, 2019
Things have been trending this way for a while. As it stands, Paul’s remaining contract is not of interest to any teams, and the Thunder simply aren’t going to kick in a draft pick to get rid of him. It may not be anyone’s ideal scenario, but it’s simply the way things are going to be for a while.
Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti has torn down the team’s roster about as effectively as you could hope for when entering a rebuilding phase, but that does not mean he is pleased with the way the offseason has gone.
Despite acquiring 15 future first-round picks by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Presti was apparently devastated he was essentially forced to blow the team up. One high-ranking Thunder executive tried to describe the disappointment to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.
“Sam acted like his dog died after trading Paul George,” the exec said.
However, the exec said Presti is realistic enough to know his team had reached its potential with Westbrook, and the disappointing result in the playoffs the past two years proved that.
“Sam won’t admit it, but he’s too smart to not know this team reached its ceiling with Westbrook,” he added.
For what it’s worth, other executives across the NBA praised Presti for the haul he got in return for George and Westbrook. Some even said they have the brightest future in the NBA and are fortunate Kawhi Leonard wanted to play with George so badly.
“Kawhi’s recruiting gave OKC an out,” one Western Conference executive told O’Connor. “Trading George allowed them to trade Russ without backlash.”
Presti has watched Westbrook, George, Kevin Durant and James Harden come through Oklahoma City, so you can understand why he’s crushed that all of them left town without a championship. However, he handled things masterfully with the George trade and even used some scare tactics to get the Clippers to give up an unprecedented package of draft picks. If you have to start from scratch, that is exactly how you make the most of a bad situation.
While Chris Paul has been frequently linked with a move away from Oklahoma City, there are also indications that the Thunder would be comfortable keeping the newly-acquired guard.
According to Ken Berger of Bleacher Report, the Thunder would have no problem keeping Paul on board if they can’t find a trade partner and Paul is willing to stay. While his deal is bloated with three years and $124 million remaining, that is still a year less than Russell Westbrook had left.
Paul’s willingness to stay remains somewhat of a question. The 34-year-old has never even played in the NBA Finals, and is running out oftime to find that elusive championship. The reality is that Paul just doesn’t have a ton of potential takers thanks to his contract unless Oklahoma City is willing to sweeten the pot by adding assets, and he may have to settle for playing on a non-contending Thunder team for at least one season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder appear to have no intention of keeping Chris Paul after they acquired him in the deal that sent Russell Westbrook to Houston, and they would like to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
Immediately after the Westbrook-Paul trade was completed on Thursday, reports indicated the Thunder actually tried to find a third team to take CP3 and still want to deal him. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Friday that the Miami Heat are the most obvious suitor in what will be a limited trade market for Paul, and the Thunder are anxious to complete a deal.
Woj saying that Chris Paul to Miami is a deal Oklahoma City is trying to get done as soon as possible. pic.twitter.com/gypJq340VQ
— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) July 12, 2019
“The market for Chris Paul is going to be small, but Miami’s at the top of that list,” Woj said. “They’d like to try to get that deal done as soon as they can. I was told there are some other teams, too, that are going to be discussed, but their hope in getting this deal done with Chris Paul was that he doesn’t play a game in a Thunder uniform.”
Paul has three years and $124 million remaining on his contract, and he is older than Westbrook and has been injured quite often over the past few seasons. It never made any sense for OKC to replace Westbrook with him, so they must have been confident they will find a new home for him when they made the trade with the Rockets. That new home will likely be in Miami alongside Jimmy Butler.
Paul could have one very interesting dilemma if he winds up with the Heat, but that’s not going to stand in the way of a deal.
The Oklahoma City Thunder reluctantly entered a rebuild when they acquiesced to Paul George’s trade request last week, but they have since done quite well for themselves.
The Thunder have amassed an absurd amount of draft picks in return for some of their traded players. They got five first-round picks from the Clippers in the George trade (three Clippers and two Miami Heat picks). They received two more first-round picks from the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook. They also received a first-round pick from Denver in a trade of Jerami Grant.
Albert Nahmad listed all the future first-round picks the Thunder possess entering the 2020 NBA Draft, including protections and pick swaps.
2020 Own (1-20)
2020 DEN (11-30)
2021 Own (HOU 5-30 swap right)
2021 MIA (HOU 5-30 swap right)
2022 Own (1-14)
2023 Own (LAC swap right)
2023 MIA (15-30)
2024 HOU (5-30)
2025 Own (LAC and HOU 21-30 swap right)
2026 HOU (5-30)
— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) July 12, 2019
The Thunder’s first-round pick for next year is protected 1-20 from the trade with Philly that brought them Jerami Grant. They likely won’t have to worry about losing that pick, which will convert to two future second-round selections. Their top-14 protected pick in 2022 comes from when they dumped Carmelo Anthony.
The Thunder have the right to choose to swap either theirs or Miami’s first-round pick with Houston in 2021. In 2025, they will have the right to swap theirs or the Clippers’ first-round pick with Houston.
This is a crap load of picks, but it might take a while for the assets to pay off. The highest picks they will probably get the next few years will be their own. Beyond that, they’ll have to hope for the Heat to be bad soon and the Clippers and Rockets to be worse years from now.