Just as I was about to release a primer for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s foray into this summer’s free agency, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN dropped this bomb:
Paul George has been traded to OKC, per sources
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 1, 2017
It was just 12 days ago that George put out the feelers that he wanted out of Indiana and was not going to re-sign with the Pacers when his contract expired after the 2017-18 season. I wrote about the Thunder’s chances of obtaining George when the statement came out. He included in his statement that he had an eye towards signing in his native Los Angeles when he became a free agent. That statement was released a full three days before the draft. The timing of the statement was no accident.
As cutthroat a statement as that may have been from George, he actually had good intentions in giving the Pacers a chance to get value from him. In a statement put out after the draft, George basically said that he didn’t want to go the Kevin Durant route and leave the Pacers with nothing to show for him. With that in mind, many thought the Pacers would get a good offer from someone during the draft. But that deal never materialized, and the Pacers headed into free agency with George still in tow.
Then the bomb dropped a couple hours before free agency began. George was being traded to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. According to media reports, that is the extent of the trade. There were no picks traded in the transaction.
Looking at the salaries, the trade has to be consummated after midnight, as the combination of Oladipo and Sabonis’ 2016-17 salaries would not be enough to make the trade work. Luckily for the Thunder, they signed Oladipo to a 4 yr/$84 million extension on October 31st, 2016, and that extension is set to kick on July 1st. Oladipo’s 2017-18 salary is more than enough to match George’s salary. In fact, when combined with Sabonis’ salary, the Thunder actually save over $4 million on the deal.
This is a huge risk for the Thunder, though. If things go south this upcoming season, George could leave the Thunder next summer with nothing to show for him. But if this works out and the Thunder go deep into next year’s playoffs, maybe George thinks twice about going to a rebuilding Lakers team and re-signs with the Thunder.
This move reminds me of the Chris Webber trade to Sacramento in 1998. After four seasons in Washington, nobody thought Webber would ever re-sign in Sacramento when his contract was up. Many thought he would either sign with his hometown Pistons or with some big-market team. But, instead, he re-signed in Sacramento and the Kings were one of the best teams in the league during their apex. Webber went on to play 15 seasons total in the league, but he is most known for the 7 years he played in Sacramento.
This is exactly the type of move the team needed to make to show Russell Westbrook their commitment to getting better and putting a championship contending team around him. Westbrook is eligible to sign the 5-year Designated Player Veteran Extension at 12:01 am EST tonight. Had the Thunder stayed put this offseason, there may have been doubt in Westbrook’s mind as to whether to sign the extension or not. But now the ball is in Westbrook’s court. His ultimate goal is to win, and the Thunder front office just gave him a cheat code to win more in this league. He and George could form one of the best duos in the league.
As for George, he has never played with a player of Westbrook’s caliber. If George sees that Westbrook is committed to winning on the Thunder by signing his extension, it could set the machinations in George’s mind that maybe the grass isn’t really greener on the westside.
For right now, though, this is a win for the Thunder. General manager Sam Presti is a master at smokescreens and he once again set a couple smokescreens in getting George. Everyone took the Kristaps Porzingis bait heading into the draft and everyone was keying in on the Thunder going heavy at Blake Griffin heading into free agency. Instead, Presti slipped in through the backdoor and came out with the biggest prize of the summer.