(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
It was just a year ago that Oklahoma City was on top of the world. On July 7 of 2018, Paul George had signed his 4-year, $137 million deal to stay with the Thunder. In doing so, he easily became the biggest free agent to ever sign with the franchise.
Right after George signed, the Mayor of Oklahoma City, David Holt, officially proclaimed it Paul George Day.
The team, the player and its fan base all seemed to be on once accord and were happy.
Fast-forward exactly one year and that partnership has broken up with George being traded in the middle of the night on July 6.
According to reports, the Thunder traded George, an MVP candidate and All-NBA first team selection, to the Los Angeles Clippers for the largest haul in recent memory. It includes three unprotected first-round picks from the Clippers (2022, 2024 and 2026), and two firsts round picks from Miami (2021 unprotected and 2023 protected) and the right to swap picks with the Los Angeles in 2023 and 2025.
Oklahoma City also came away with veteran small forward Danilo Gallinari and point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Thunder are receiving a staggering number of draft picks and at least one starter.
None of that is consolation to the Oklahoma City fans who woke up Saturday morning to a new reality in terms of where their team now sits in the pecking order of the NBA.
While the comparisons to Kevin Durant leaving in 2016 will be plentiful, George’s departure is even more complicated and bleak.
George had three years left on his four-year deal with Oklahoma City. In his two seasons with the Thunder, they had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Despite that, during his exit interview, George seemed ready to move forward and work out the issues that plagued the team.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that, on what’s the next step, the next phase for this group going forward,” George said in April. “So you know, that’s something I think we’re all trying to work on internally, figure out like what can we do, because this is a team that can go far. We have pieces in place to have a long postseason reason. I am trying to figure out like what itis for this group.”
But sometime within the last week, according to reports, George told Thunder General Manager Sam Presti that he wanted to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Presti and the Thunder then did the unthinkable and gave him what he wanted. Not only did they trade him, but also sent him to the exact team he wanted.
Neither George nor anyone from the Thunder have announced what put them on the road to a breakup. But the mastermind behind the move was NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who had been encouraging George to seek a trade so they could both go back home to L.A.
According to reports, Presti tried to trade both George and Russell Westbrook to the Toronto Raptors, but they didn’t have enough draft picks to satisfy the Thunder.
If that is true, what does that mean for the future of Westbrook in Oklahoma City?
Many are saying the Thunder made the best of a bad situation by not forcing the team to go through a season with a disgruntled player. And with the stockpile of draft picks, they are going to be able to use them on young talent for the next six to seven years or leverage them in trades to bring veteran players to Oklahoma City.
However, even if the Thunder are able to complete its own blockbuster trade that would bring an All-NBA player to Oklahoma City, they have set a bad precedent. Players now know they can bully to team’s front office into trading them with a simple demand or request.
While George hasn’t said anything publicly about the trade, he did take to social media and sort of defended Westbrook when NBA started to blame him. After ESPN’s Jalen Rose posted “I am not accepting any Westbrook slander!!!!” and George added “At All.”
“Honestly, man, (Westbrook) is one of the best human beings I’ve ever been a part of,” George said at his exit interviews. “I had a choice and a decision to go anywhere I wanted to in my career, and I chose to come back here. I mean, come on, that says a lot on its own, what kind of person Russ is.”
Yet, as fans have learned over the past four years, taking a player at their word is not as easy as it used to be.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content P rovider with Michael Kinney Media