Russell Westbrook is on his way to Houston, Paul George is “home” in Los Angeles, Jerami Grant is now a Denver Nugget, and the Oklahoma City Thunder is headed in a very different direction than it was just a couple of weeks ago.
With the massive overhaul and expected rebuild of the still fairly young franchise, fans are in panic mode as they try to manage their emotions and make sense of what the future—both immediate and distant—looks like for the Thunder.
With the addition of Chris Paul, who comes in return for Westbrook in the trade with Houston, there are really only two options for Oklahoma City moving forward.
I. Start CP3, Develop Young Guys Slowly
In my mind, this is the less optimal of the two options. If Thunder GM Sam Presti is legitimately focused on a rebuild, paying $124 million over the next 3 years to an aging point guard who is injury-prone and well past his prime is not money spent wisely. However, moving Paul and his contract is going to be easier said than done.
If the Thunder is forced to keep and play CP3—an option that he himself is not too keen on, according to reports—he will not only take minutes away from budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Paul will be taking the ball out of Gilgeous-Alexander’s hands as well while on the court together.
The optimistic side to this option (I guess?) is that the Thunder’s odds of making the playoffs increase quite a bit. If Chris Paul can continue to lead a team with the efficiency that he has over the last decade, then Oklahoma City could very well be in the thick of the playoff hunt. While this does not help with positioning in the NBA draft, winning is more fun than losing, so at least there’s that.
II. Trade Chris Paul, Continue to Build Assets
As already mentioned, trading Chris Paul—and his giant contract—is a lot easier said than done. If he is moved, the Thunder will likely need to attach one of their recently acquired draft picks, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the trade with Houston. However, there are some situations that could make a move worth OKC’s time.
The Miami Heat is the most popular of the franchises being thrown around in CP3 trade rumors, but considering they were not willing to budge for Russell Westbrook, it’s hard to believe that they will do so for a lesser point guard. If the Thunder intends on moving Paul, they will want to look primarily for young talent via the acquisition—including acquiring more draft picks— and secondarily for expiring contracts to help match the money while not committing long-term to a player expecting to be paid down the line.
If Oklahoma City can send Chris Paul out and not get totally fleeced in a trade, then the Thunder will be in a much better position to rebuild in a reasonable timeframe. Who knows, maybe they will be contenders once again sometime in the next decade.
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