When Kawhi Leonard whispered in Paul George’s ear, the window for a Thunder championship closed.
Now, to be fair, Leonard probably didn’t whisper at George, and to be realistic, that championship window was cracked barely a sliver – more closed than really open – but you get the point. Kawhi called, George left in a hurry, Russell Westbrook followed.
And while general manager Sam Presti danced around the “R” word, calling the current Thunder situation anything but a rebuild, using terms like “repositioning” and “replenishing,” instead, we all pretty much know what’s going on. Oklahoma City is stuck.
This isn’t a problem unique and indigenous to Oklahoma City. This is a league-wide issue. Anthony Davis, under contract, forced a trade from New Orleans to the Lakers. George has now done it twice, first at Indianapolis and now at Oklahoma City. Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, two more examples of players with deals that decided they wanted out of those deals. Westbrook didn’t force his way out, per se, but certainly asked for an early release. Upward mobility is great when it helps your team. It kinda stinks when you get burned.
At the moment Paul got a chance and at the moment Westbrook realized this team wasn’t going anywhere, the two wanted out. They were unhappy. Even Presti said so Thursday.
But the real damage to the Thunder isn’t just the fact the Westbrook and George are now gone, it’s the absolute destruction of the theory of playing for the future. Presti warned us Thursday, first with the written word in an Op-Ed that appeared in The Oklahoman, and then again when he visited with the media.
Presti: We need to be patient. This kind of thing happens. Yes, we’re being positive. Understandable statements – all of them.
And yes, the Thunder got a truckload of draft picks for George. They got another haul for Westbrook, too. They also got the new reality of the NBA delivered in a punch to the privates.
Draft picks are great but the future means so very little.
While Presti wants us to be patient, the truth is the present is all that matters. If George and Westbrook and Durant all expressed interest about the team’s viability to win, you have to realize that waiting around and being patient when superstars aren’t, is foolish. Playing for the future in this league, in this day, is a mistake. Playing for the now is the only option. Trying to build through the draft is a possibility. The Thunder did it once, so there’s that, but with the recent trend of superstar players signing contracts and not honoring them, even if OKC gets a bit of luck through the draft and develops more stars, there’s no empirical evidence to show they’ll stay.
Oklahoma City has its draft picks. Great. Those are assets. Trade them. Trade them today. Develop players as they come along, but trade for a star now, or at least a player who has the potential to be one. Of course it feels satisfying to nurture and experience a home-grown player, but it also feels pretty good to avoid being cast into the iron fist of NBA irrelevancy. You need to have stars first. Worry about everything else second.
The window for a championship opens and closes in a year’s time. Oklahoma City can get there again, but it doesn’t have to patient to do it. Trade the picks and get what you can get. Banking on the future is too risky and expecting star players to stick around is too.