Last summer when Paul George requested (and was given) a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, I was devastated. I appreciated PG in his time here, but it wasn’t his departure that brought on the heartbreak. It was knowing what would almost immediately follow.
It didn’t take long for Russell Westbrook to get traded away to the Rockets, and all of a sudden, reality set in: the Thunder franchise as we knew it was long gone, and the rebuild was moving forward.
Jerami Grant was the next major piece to go, and left in the aftermath was a roster full of brand new faces with a few familiar ones left behind. Thunder GM Sam Presti had done a fantastic job at getting a haul of a return for the now dearly departed players, but that haul was heavily dependent upon future drafts.
Now it appears as if we don’t have to wait to see just how good those trades proved to be, and with Paul George injured yet again after straining a hamstring against the Boston Celtics on Thursday, it certainly looks as if the Thunder was the winner all along.
Paul George has missed 21 games so far, and despite a full week off thanks to All-Star Weekend, there is no telling how soon he will return to the court. Even when he has played in the 34 games this season, his numbers have dropped off dramatically from last season, and he is averaging his lowest scoring numbers since returning from his horrific leg injury back in August of 2014.
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s return on George has performed above expectations. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—the key longterm piece in the trade—is having a fantastic sophomore year in the NBA, and his participation in both the Rising Stars game and the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend are further proof of ascent among the young stars in the league.
Then there’s Danilo Gallinari. Many expected him to be moved at the trade deadline as he has proven himself to be a quality piece for a contender, and he nearly was, but now he’s set to finish out the season with OKC. There is no telling what will happen with him in the offseason, either. He could re-sign with the Thunder, he could be moved to another team in a sign-and-trade, or he could simply walk in free agency. No matter what choice he makes, he’s had a very similar season to his career-year last year.
All of this doesn’t even mention Chris Paul, who the Thunder received in exchange for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook never would have been traded to the Rockets if Paul George had not left first, so take CP3’s All-Star season so far, and add that to the list of positives for OKC.
The evidence is clear, and though we are only 55 games into the first season of no Paul George, no Russell Westbrook, the verdict is in: the Oklahoma City Thunder is in a much better position today than they have been in years.
Think about it this way: if OKC had done what many expected would be done in terms of limited roster changes or “running it back” so to speak, Thunder fans would likely be very miserable right now. Paul George would be injured, forcing Russell Westbrook to carry much of the load, and we’ve seen what that looks like time and time again. We appreciate what Westbrook did while he was here, but he simply could not carry the team on his own.
Now, in a season that was essentially labeled a wash, the Thunder is all but guaranteed a playoff spot, and not only that, but they could even make a push for a top-4 seed in the West.
No matter what the rest of this season holds, it’s becoming more and more clear that the Thunder franchise as a whole has an extremely bright future, and it all started with Paul George requesting a trade out of Oklahoma City.
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