Thunder Upgrade

Here’s a brief summary of the Paul George trade talk held by the Lakers, Celtics, Thunder, and the Pacers:

Rob Pelinka: “Hey Mr. Pritchard, we’re ready to offer you a choice of either Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson, plus Kyle Kuzma (27th pick) and Josh Hart (30th) for a player that a) wants to be a Laker and b) we can sign without giving up any assets next season.

Kevin Pritchard: “Pass.”

Danny Ainge: “Kevin, we’re willing to give out three future 1st-round picks, Jae Crowder (earning $7M in a league where Chandler Parsons is worth $22M), and Avery Bradley. We can even offer the expiring $8M contract of Tyler Zeller to sweeten the deal! All this for a player that could turn out to be a one-year rental if we don’t win the East!

KP: “Pass.”

Sam Presti: “Well, we have Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, two players that no one really wants. But we could include…

KP: “DEAL!”

SP: “Wait, you sure? We can take Monta Ellis’ horrible $10M contract if…”

KP: “No, no. We’re good.”

It’s always hard to criticize the decisions made by NBA GMs who are paid millions to do their jobs and make their team better. Well, except for Phil Jackson. Ever since Paul George made his intentions of leaving Indiana next year, Pritchard was put in a tricky situation to not only appease a disgruntled star but also build a team that only has a disgruntled star as a real asset.

BUT…

It’s also hard not to criticize the crazy decisions made by NBA GMs who are supposedly paid millions to do their jobs and make their team better. This Paul George for Victor Oladipo/Domantas Sabonis trade is a perfect example of that. This also comes just a week after Pritchard himself said, “we’re not going to make a bad deal.”

(Spoiler alert: you made a bad deal!)

Salary-wise, the trade works. George is set to earn $19.5M while Oladipo will start collecting $21M for the next 4 years after signing an extension last year. Sabonis is on a rookie scale contract that pays $2.55M with a 2-year option after next season (Indiana has enough cap to compensate for the slight diff in salary with Teague moving to Minnesota). But you know who else the Pacers could have gotten for the same amount? KEVIN LOVE, a 28-year old, 1-time NBA Champion, 4-time All-Star who averaged a double-double, earned less than Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose, and under contract for 3 years.

Would you rather have 4 years of Oladipo/Sabonis or 3 years of Kevin Love?

(Waiting…)

That’s what I thought so too!

It’s tough to digest that it only took an overvalued player and a rookie who wasn’t even part of any of the NBA All-Rookie team to pry a top 15 player away from his team. But being that George only has a year left on his contract, teams weren’t keen on giving up too much for a superstar that could turn out to be a one-year rental.

But there were those who were still ready to risk assets for a player of PG’s caliber. The Cavaliers were reportedly close to acquiring Carmelo Anthony and George in a 5-team blockbuster trade, but couldn’t find anyone to take Love. Apparently, no one needs a stretch-4 these days when spacing is the key.

The Wizards wanted to do a sign-and-trade with Indiana for Otto Porter, Jr. who John Wall has basically thrown under the bus when he said, “ Our 3-man [Otto Porter Jr.] did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. …

(Take note: Porter, Jr. is now the new Bradley Beal to John Wall’s John Wall)

Even the Celtics were ready to cash in their pot full of draft picks and assets and finally build their own “superteam” around Hayward (through free agency) and George, who believes they can persuade to stay by selling the “winning culture.”

The Lakers never improved their draft day offer centered around Randle/Clarkson plus the 27th & 28th pick. When the Pacers said no, they stood their ground. Why give up assets for someone they can sign in 2018, right? It looked as if Indiana would call George’s bluff and pay him to be a Pacer this season before OKC crashed into the party ala the Kool-Aid logo from Family Guy:

giphy-downsized.gif

No one saw Sam Presti coming because, really, no one saw Sam Presti had anything up his sleeve. Aside from the Terminator Machine that is Westbrook and Steven Adams, OKC doesn’t have anyone else that would grant a phone call conversation with any team in the league. But the fact that Presti was able to flip Serge Ibaka for Oladipo/Sabonis/Ilyasova last season was borderline highway robbery. Flipping Oladipo/Sabonis for Paul George? That’s basically giving someone a Jollibee Yum Burger (ala carte) in exchange for a 2-PC KFC Fully Loaded Meal and large apple juice!

This is clearly a high-risk high-reward for the Thunder. For all the talk of Russell reaching the level of Michael Jordan, Oklahoma found a way to pair him up with today’s Scottie Pippen — a lockdown defender that can match up with the best of them.

Forget the long term plans of trusting the process, OKC is not backing down from the Warriors. And that’s the best thing about this trade! Minnesota has Jimmy Butler, Houston sacrificed depth to pair James Harden with Chris Paul, and OKC again has two alphas. The last time they had those, they were a win away from the NBA Finals against the team that set the best record in history.

If this doesn’t work and turns out to be a one-year rental, then at least no one would blame Oklahoma City for trying. They got themselves out of the Oladipo contract, whose value has taken a hit since struggling to fit alongside Westbrook. And as Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer pointed out, “ …The Thunder already know how to cope with a superstar leaving. They didn’t even have to mortgage their future to dive into this risk. There’s nothing to lose.

But if this works, Lord have mercy.

– David Gamboa

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