The Oklahoma City Thunder are facing a rebuild far sooner than they expected.
In a sudden change of events, All-Star forward Paul George was dealt to the Clippers after requesting a trade, pairing him with Kawhi Leonard. The request comes only one season after George signed a new max contract with the Thunder.
OKC received a massive haul for George, who is coming off an MVP-caliber season. The Clippers sent several first-round picks, as well as Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the league’s best rookies last season.
The Thunder made another move soon after, sending starting forward Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a 2020 first round pick. Given Grant’s career-best season in points and rebounds, the Thunder appear to be selling high and getting all the assets they can.
Russell Westbrook, as well as Steven Adams, could be on the way out soon. Assuming GM Sam Presti doesn’t flip the Clippers picks for a new star, OKC’s window of contention appears to be over.
Starting a rebuild isn’t always easy for a franchise. Luckily, they have two valuable assets to put on the trade market.
Moving Adams may be more difficult than moving Westbrook. After free agency, many teams have filled their big man needs, in addition to being set cap-wise.
Adams is currently on a deal that will pay him over $50 million the next two seasons, and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Adams has proved his value the last two seasons, averaging about 14 points and nine rebounds.
It may be hard for OKC to find a team willing to give up young talent for a one-dimensional big in Adams, as well as take on his salary. The Celtics were reportedly interested, but have since signed Enes Kanter.
The only option for the Thunder may be to take on expiring deals. Adams could be sent to Charlotte for Marvin Williams and Bismack Biyombo’s contracts, or Atlanta for Chandler Parsons. In these scenarios, OKC would free up space for 2020 free agency, becoming players on the market. This might be the only option when it comes to dealing Adams, but the Thunder would likely see if they can get another draft pick out of the deal as well.
Despite criticism for “stat-padding”, Russell Westbrook is still undeniably one of the league’s point guards. His explosiveness and intensity make him a player that will bring relevance and excitement to any team he ends up on.
Westbrook’s 11-year career with the Thunder appears to be coming to an end as the team, along with Westbrook’s camp, are receptive to trade talks. Multiple teams are reportedly interested in Westbrook, who is coming off a third consecutive season averaging a triple-double.
The Miami Heat are one of the front-runners to trade for Westbrook, pairing him with newly-acquired Jimmy Butler. While some have expressed doubt about two hard-headed, vocal, ball-dominant players in the same backcourt, Miami could potentially move up the ranks in an open Eastern Conference if they made this deal happen.
Miami would have to match Westbrook’s $38 million salary. They could do so in a deal sending Goran Dragic’s expiring contract, Justice Winslow and 2019 first-round pick Tyler Herro to OKC. This deal would be a lot to give up, but their roster could be filled out with minimum deals.
The Detroit Pistons are also interested, and arguably have more of a reason to trade for another star. The team acquired Blake Griffin last season, and the two together, along with Derrick Rose could make noise in the East.
The Pistons would send Reggie Jackson and Langston Galloway, along with Tony Snell to the Thunder, probably in addition to picks. Unfortunately for OKC, this deal doesn’t include much young talent, but a third-team could always be incorporated into a trade to make it work better. While these two teams seem to be the frontrunners, OKC should take the best deal, and try and move Westbrook before the season starts.
While the Thunder didn’t expect to be in a rebuilding phase heading into the upcoming season, it could be a lot worse for the franchise. Paul George could have left last summer, leaving them empty-handed. Instead, they received a ton of assets, most notably Gilgeous-Alexander, who becomes the team’s main building block.
In trade partners for Adams and Westbrook, OKC should look to find expiring deals as well as draft picks in addition to young talent, but the latter may be hard to come by.
2020 free agency pales in comparison to this summer. However, there are a handful of good young players that will be available, such as Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Caris LeVert.
The Thunder could find themselves overpaying for one of these names, but it would mean bringing in established talent. If they can get a couple of solid free agents, as well as make good draft picks, the Thunder might not be irrelevant in the West for very long.
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.