Kyrie Irving wanted out and got his way.
So did Paul George. LeBron James has gotten his way for years, ever since forcing a trade to Miami, re-signing with Cleveland, shipping away Andrew Wiggins, bringing in J.R. Smith and Kevin Love, etc. LeBron wants it, it happens. And rightfully so.
Bad news for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook is sitting back and watching this and has to be thinking how he can do the same thing. Meanwhile, the Thunder waits.
And there’s not much Sam Presti or anyone else with the Thunder can do about it.
Such is the case with the NBA these days where the league is ruled by superstars who have flexibility like a yoga instructor and have better mobility than your 4G network.
Cleveland, desperate to keep James, but knowing he’s probably gone, had to ship off Kyrie Irving because Irving was going to make life difficult in Cleveland, knowing James is likely gone after this next season. So the Cavs shipped Irviing.
Indiana, desperate to keep George, shipped him for less than pennies on a strong dollar. The Pacers knew George didn’t want to stay and was going to make life miserable in Indy for the better part of this season. Knowing George wanted out and knowing there was a chance nothing was coming back in return, the decision makers with the Pacers sent George to OKC.
Only a select few players have this kind of leverage. Certainly Westbrook has come to realize he’s one of them and perhaps the reason he hasn’t signed this super-max contract so many Thunder fans are wanting him to sign is because he’s seeing exactly how far and wide this leverage may reach.
Meanwhile, he’s absolutely holding the franchise hostage. Silence from Westbrook means ambiguity and causes Presti and the team to go static. They can’t move until Westbrook says so. They can’t jump through a hoop until there’s a hoop to jump through.
A Westbrook declaration – any kind, good or bad – and the team can move forward, but we may not get there before training camp and we may not get there before the season starts. That’s because Westbrook is trying to figure out what hoops he wants to go through. And as a star in the league, he has the ability to be as deliberate and patient as he would like.
An MVP winner. A triple-double record breaker. Westbrook has accomplished a lot, but what’s important to him is still a mystery. Score more points, win more awards, and OKC might be the best fit. Win a title? Perhaps it’s time to move on.
OKC will be one of the most-compelling teams this season, and competitive, too. But they are only one conversation away from being in the exact same position as it was a year ago at this time – top-heavy with a superstar and not a lot else to go with it.
If George expresses he wants out then Westbrook would need to make a decision. Does he want to stay, knowing he has little help in the future, or does he want to take off, like Irving did and tell the team he wants out? Conversely, if Westbrook says, hints or suggests he wants out, George would need to make a decision.
Regardless, the Thunder are bound and waiting for Westbrook to make his call. He’s in charge. George matters, but only if Westbrook stays.
By mid-season, one or both of the superstars could be traded. By mid-season, one or both of the superstars could give a commitment. We don’t know. The only thing we do know is Westbrook has the chance to decide.
Westbrook is one of the lucky ones in the league. He has the power to shape the future of this organization. It’s only a matter of time before we learn what direction the Thunder will go.