At season’s end, the WTLC staff put together a modest list of items that we felt needed to be addressed by Oklahoma City Thunder GM, Sam Prestiover the summer. Here is a quick update on that list and some opinion on the result. (Feel free to agree or disagree with those opinions in the comment section)
WTLC Summer Wish-List
Re-sign Paul George. Check!
How appropriate was it, looking back, for WTLC’s, Ben Merten, placing one of the summer’s biggest fish at the top of the list? At the time, re-signing the native born Cali who dreamed of suiting up for a beloved team of his childhood seemed more pipe dream than possible, but I suppose if one must dream, they should dream big, and for Sam Presti, that concept paid off in a big way.
When Kevin Durant pulled up stakes and headed west, he fractured the foundation of everything Presti had worked toward. The safe play would have been to call in the demolition team and finish the job. Russell Westbrook’s trade value was never higher, Steven Adams was just coming off a brilliant playoff run, and Dion Waiters had regained some value as well. The haul of young talent and future picks must have offered a powerful temptation, but rather than put down a sacrifice bunt, big “Stick” Sammy dug in and swung for the fence... and connected.
First order of business was re-working Westbrook’s deal to buy some time — check. (Note, let it be known that Russ was fully aware of the gamble Presti was taking and his loyalty to this city and this organization should never be a matter of discussion from this day forward)
Little did we mere mortals know that step one was the easy part.
The second order of business was rebuilding the foundation and Presti did that with one of the boldest trade moves in NBA history. Paul George could not have made his wish of playing in L.A. any plainer when he told the Indiana Pacers he wanted out, but that had no affect on Presti. He bet it all on the culture he had masterminded and sacrificed two very good players to get first crack at, and win, the Paul George sweepstakes. I’m sure that Laker management is still scratching their heads and asking how the hell Presti pulled it off.
This signing may even prove bigger than we know because I think we only saw about 75% of what George had to offer last season. Let’s face it, no matter what he said when he first came to OKC, that man’s eyes were looking westward all season long and he wasn’t taking any chances of getting injured. The situation entering this season is entirely different. PG has committed the bulk of his prime years to OKC and if a ring is something he desires, it takes only a rudimentary understanding of human nature to conclude that a deeper emotional commitment will result in better, more aggressive play.
2. Re-Sign Jerami Grant. Check.
As Isaiah Freedmon pointed out, Grant has become a very important piece in the Thunder puzzle. His athleticism, versatility, and length coupled with a strong motor and willingness to improve has won over many fans that doubted his viability during his first full season in a Thunder uniform. Adding Nerlens Noels to the lineup may help Grant possibly more than any player on the roster, as Noel’s presence will greatly reduce Grant’s time playing the five and allow him more time against players he matches up to physically.
3. A Ripped Terrance Ferguson. In progress.
Let’s face it, 2K is barely 20 years old and has the metabolism of a rabbit. Weight gain will be an issue for him for a couple of years but gaining core strength is possible. I watched him fighting through screens in Summer League, which was encouraging, but the 30% shooting average was not. Hamidou Diallo outshined the Thunder’s featured player in Vegas and should get a serious look from the coaches once training camp rolls around.
4. Get our Man, Steven Adams, some help. Check.
Signing Nerlens Noels is a boon for Steven Adams who found himself toting the heavy paint work for both starters and bench much of last season. That double duty had the obvious effect, and by playoff time, Adams was clearly beaten up and worn out. Between Noel and Grant, the Funaki should get enough rest during the regular season to keep him strong for what Thunder fans hope is a long playoff run.
Westbrook and George may get the spotlight, but this Thunder team will only go as far as Steven Adams goes. Wear out the big Kiwi out like last season and it’s cancel Christmas time.
5. Figure out a solution for Melo. Check.
It wasn’t the grand slam that Presti rocked into the center field bleachers with the Paul George signing, but Sam did sneak a solid 2-run RBI single into short right when he traded Me, Myself, and Melo to Atlanta for a willing sixth man in Dennis Schroder, and then sent Mike Muscala, the second player in the Hawks trade, to Philly for an interesting young prospect, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (TLC for short). Unfortunately, the reality that was Carmelo Anthony on the Thunder roster never got close to the expectation. Many said beforehand that it would not work, and they were right. Vaya con Dios, Hoodie.
Westbrook is Schroder’s favorite player and he tries to emulate his game, and they are very similar. Top tier athletically, but somewhat handicapped shooting from distance. Luwawu-Cabarrot’s favorite player is Paul George. If he is able to overcome the lingering knee issues that eventually moved him out of the rotation in Philadelphia and regain the explosiveness that earned him a first round spot in the 2016 Draft, couple that with the super-athletic Schroder, and subtract an aging Carmelo Anthony who couldn’t run with Russell Westbrook or Paul George if his life depended on it, and the Thunder’s athleticism meter just jumped into the red zone.
After taking that 5-game beat down at the hands of the Utah Jazz and carrying a tax debt that would bankrupt some small countries, the Oklahoma City Thunder were literally left for dead at the end of the 2017/18 season. But here we are, locked and loaded for another season. Longtime Oklahoma University fans believe in Sooner Magic because they have seen it time and again, victory literally snatched from the jaws of defeat, and Presti seems to have the same touch.
If Andre Roberson doesn’t let his new girlfriend distract him and comes back 100%, Presti has put together a seriously scary team. I can’t wait.