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Looking Backward To See Forward

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A quick evaluation of the Paul George trade gives the Thunder many, many reasons to be thankful and anticipatory of a promising future.

Deep breath.

A cornerstone of our franchise was traded by surprise, and not for one second did the world not continue to spin. Life goes on. This is the endless ebbing and flowing of the NBA—where any night could change a franchise drastically and you are not owed a warning.

NBA superstar Paul George was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers for the following bounty:

  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  • Four unprotected draft picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026 from the Clippers, and 2021 from the Heat
  • One lottery-protected pick from the Heat in 2023
  • Pick swapping rights with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025

It doesn’t get better than that, considering how quickly the traded needed to come together. Sam Presti was put in a precarious but advantageous position, and he milked out every ounce of value.

Though losing Paul George, especially when it is such a shock, was going to be hard no matter what, I truly believe this situation is a net positive for the Thunder, especially if Westbrook is traded.

I fear great rebuke by saying this, I assure you. Let me explain why my excitement trumps my sadness.

Relief

With a small inkling of shame, I feel a large dosage of relief. Watching free agency unfold the way it has did not stir much confidence in me. While watching overnight Goliaths grow around us, our Davidian heroes had no rocks to throw. The Thunder were nothing except free agency witnesses, carrying a heavy load of immovable cash and few assets.

Not only did our chances to surpass the 1st round of the playoffs decrease, our chance of making the playoffs at all decreased. We can talk all we want about health or poor shooting, but those variables are not exclusive to us. All teams deal with being hot and cold, healthy or injured, and we still almost didn’t make the playoffs last year.

Was it really in our best interest to run it back? In the very best case scenario, we would’ve lost in the second round of the playoffs. That’s a lot of money rendered pointless.

All future defenses can be set down. The swords go back in the scabbard. We can relax. Paul George and Russell Westbrook are big names and talents that indicate a certain floor-level achievement that they never met together. Defending the gap between actual and potential achievement is exhausting year after year. It’s done. This team has none of those expectations, and I am thankful for that.

Assets

Hot dog, we got some assets.

Don’t be upset and trick yourself into thinking these picks won’t be worth much coming from a title-winning dynasty like the Clippers.

The humbling truth is that we have no idea what these picks will be, and they extend far into the future, giving the present moment plenty of chances to mess up and rocket those picks into the lottery.

What if Kahwi and PG don’t get along? What if either of them, who do not have sterling injury histories, gets seriously injured? Do we know how PG looks after 2 shoulder surgeries? What is the LA life interferes with basketball? What if Doc Rivers uses the players horribly?

We don’t know what will happen. The mystery is why the picks are valuable, not only for the players they may give the Thunder, but also the players they may give other teams. Now, players like Adams and Schröder are much more attractive when they are tagged with a bonus unprotected 1st round draft pick. The picks give us a historic opportunity for rebuilding, affording Presti any manner, route, or fashion of rebuild he wishes. With Presti at the helm, that is power.

Potentially More Assets

The elephant in the room is growing larger, and he’s beginning to sing the “Leave It to Beaver” theme song. He cannot be ignored.

As I’m typing this, I received an alert saying that Sam Presti and Russ are meeting to discuss Russ’ future with the team, including trading Russ before the season starts.

It hurts me deeply, but I believe trading Russ is the correct move.

The Thunder, and its fans, should look to honor the potential of Russ’ legacy more than they attempt to honor his history with the franchise. Russ deserves a title more than most every player in the league, and it is very clear he will not win one with the current Thunder construct. Russ should be traded to a contender, not because it’s what I want to happen, but because Russ deserves it, and more picks/young players will make our rebuild easier, faster, and better. All parties win, despite the pain.

If we love him, we will let him go. We cannot give him what he deserves.

The Thunder sit in a position that very few teams have ever seen: stocked with draft picks and a young player to build a team around. Teams spend years trying to get to this exact starting spot, and we only render it less potent by keeping Russ. We must go full rebuild so that we are winning more games sooner.

By trading Russ, the Thunder will hand over to Sam Presti, a true, true basketball wizard, a blank canvas. Few GMs ever receive that.