Do the Thunder have a chance at acquiring Paul George?

paul george russell Westbrook

At around 2:00 PM CST on Father’s Day, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski released the following tweet:

First off, the timing of the tweet makes it very purposeful. Over four days before the NBA Draft is due to take place gives the Indiana Pacers plenty of time to receive trade offers that have some meat behind them. While many will look at this as a negative move from Paul George’s part, it actually likely helps the Pacers in the long run.

No one in the NBA wants to see a lame duck season from a player or a team. That’s what the 2017-18 season would’ve been like for the Pacers had they allowed George to just go through the motions next season. With this definitive statement from the George camp, both sides can now put into motion the necessary steps to move forward from this break-up.

It’s something that, given hindsight, the Thunder would have loved from Kevin Durant. I know, the two situation are completely different, as George has been a member of a middling Pacers’ team for the past four season, while Durant was a member of a perennial title contender when the team was healthy. But the ability for a team to know the intentions of their superstar a full season before he is up for an extension gives that team so much more to work with. Remember, the Thunder got nothing from Durant leaving to Golden State. Not even the possibility for a sign and trade, which would’ve at least gifted the Thunder a hefty Traded Player Exception.

One thing that does need to be said about this situation: the statement from George’s camp, especially the part about Los Angeles, essentially killed George’s trade value for the Pacers. Not killed it in the sense the Pacers won’t get anything for him. But killed it in the fact that Indiana will likely not be receiving any type of Godfather deal for George. No team is likely to risk valuable future assets for a possible one-year rental. The Pacers can pretty much kiss any chance of getting a top-10 draft pick for Paul George. Because of that, David Aldridge put out this tweet:

With this information in hand, do the Oklahoma City Thunder have a chance at landing Paul George? The short answer is of course they have a chance at landing George. The next question then becomes: What are they willing to give up to get him? And that’s where it becomes complicated.

Money is not an issue at all in acquiring George. George signed a max contract under the old CBA, so he is only making $18.3 million this season and $19.5 next season. When I say this season, I’m talking about the money he earned in 2016-17. If he gets traded during the draft, teams will be operating under his 2016-17 salary. Next season’s money doesn’t kick in until July 1st, at which point any trade for George then will be under the guise of his 2017-18 salary ($19.5 million). It’s a difference of $1.2 million, which under this new CBA is minutiae, but I just wanted to clear up any confusion when talking about his salary.

Back to the issue at hand: What are the Thunder willing to give up for what could possibly be one season of Paul George? While the Thunder may not have a lot of draft-related assets, they do have a cupboard full of young players who are just now coming into their own. Players like Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines, Jerami Grant, and Doug McDermott all come to mind. Young players may be more valuable than first round picks as they offer more of a known construct than could a rookie who has yet to play a minute in the NBA. Are the Thunder willing to part ways with some of their young (cheap) talent for what may be nothing more than a rental?

My guess is no. But then another thought creeps into the frame: If the Thunder want to build a contender around Russell Westbrook, isn’t the biggest step in that process somehow acquiring a superstar? For all the talk of possibly acquiring hometown boy Blake Griffin in free agency, the reality is the Thunder will likely have to give up a ton more to get Griffin than to get George. If the Thunder were to get Griffin, they would likely have to trade two of either Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, or Steven Adams and let Andre Roberson walk just to get anywhere close to getting under the salary cap to offer Griffin a comparable contract.

With the possibility of Westbrook signing the 5-year Designated Player Extension this summer, wouldn’t it make sense for the Thunder to try and make a splash at getting George? The reality is Westbrook can’t win a title in Oklahoma City with the team as currently constructed. For that to happen, Adams would have to develop into prime DeAndre Jordan. Oladipo and Abrines would have to develop into Klay Thompson clones. And Andre Roberson would have to develop into Jae Crowder/Iman Shumpert. I know the words of the day for this offseason are “internal development,” but these transformations are likely not happening.

The Thunder would have to look for a deal that would entice Indiana, but also not destroy their depth. As far as draft assets, the Thunder could offer their pick from this draft, but the trade would have to be officially consummated after July 1st. Due to the Stepien rule, a team cannot trade away their first round pick in consecutive years. Last year’s pick was dealt to Cleveland in the Dion Waiters trade. And the 2018 first rounder was dealt to Utah in the Enes Kanter trade. So the Thunder have to pick in the first round in this draft. But if they have a deal in place with Indiana before the draft, they can pick a player of Indiana’s choosing, and trade their draft rights to Indiana after July 1st. But this would have to be agreed upon before the Thunder made their selection. In addition, the Thunder own Chicago’s unprotected 2018 2nd round pick, which depending on if Chicago deals Jimmy Butler in the next 6 months as expected, could be a high 2nd rounder.

A combination of those trade assets, Enes Kanter, and another young player could be enough to move the needle for Indiana. Or maybe not. Just know that Thunder GM Sam Presti likely will not mortgage the future for what could be just one season of Paul George.

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