Alright. I have to figure out a way to not seem too smug as I write this.
Nah, not worth it.
Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been less match made in heaven and more Tinder date friends laugh about over beers at the bar. And it’s wonderful.
The Thunder currently sit at 16-15 on the season, good enough for sixth in the conference. If the playoffs were to start today, they’d have to get through the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors before meeting the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals. It’s almost fitting that they’d face the Spurs in the first round, as did the 2012-2013 Lakers in their “Now This Is Going To Be Fun” season.
At the time of George’s trade from Indiana, rumors were swirling about his desire to play in Los Angeles. The general consensus was that a lengthy playoff run would go a long way in convincing him otherwise, but you see that gauntlet. Either the Thunder will have to play demonstrably better to improve their playoff position or fall in the playoff picture to only face one of either Golden State or Houston.
Their options aren’t great. But hey, at least the quotes from George himself are promising!
This, via Ken Berger of Bleacher Report:
So as rival teams begin wondering if George could be available at the trade deadline if the Thunder’s struggles continue, there’s something else worth wondering: If George concludes that his Oklahoma City experience will be one-and-done, will he be inclined to give the Thunder the same kind of heads up?
“Well, I think this is a different scenario because it’s our only year together as far as we’re on one-year contracts,” George told Bleacher Report. “I want to put everything into this and see where that takes us. I’m not giving up; I’m not giving in. I want to give this thing everything I have and we’ll see where it goes.”
Ouch. *stifles chuckle with a cough*
In all seriousness, one can read that quote in a variety of ways, depending on their point of view and biases.
Lakers fans will read that as “well things suck right now but maybe they’ll improve enough that I can make it look like it was a tough decision before I bolt in free agency.” Thunder fans will think there is still time to turn things around.
But really, is there?
Oklahoma City doesn’t have the entire season to work with. If they hope to avoid losing George for nothing, they really only have a couple months before February’s trade deadline. Even the most optimistic Thunder fan wouldn’t wager on a drastic enough turnaround to change George’s reportedly made-up mind.
Oklahoma City has also set a precedent here. They moved on from James Harden a year before his free agency. Serge Ibaka was traded to Orlando. Sam Presti is probably cognizant of his organization’s ability to lure free agents, and that’s before you factor in their cap space moving forward.
Losing George for nothing really isn’ an option, as Laker fans found out once Dwight Howard took off in the summer of 2013. I’d even argue the Lakers were better positioned for that scenario as they had a vastly larger market, a stronger brand to work with and more cap flexibility to try to rebuild. OKC can’t tank like the Lakers did so long as they’re paying Russell Westbrook the way they are in their small market.
Things are lining up well for the Lakers to take advantage of the situation. Whether Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can actually exploit the very same scenario that led to the last five years of tanking is another thing altogether.
The good news for OKC is that at least Russ isn’t singing a song about a significant other not getting so high on themselves that they’d be irreplaceable.
russell westbrook started his day singing irreplaceable by Beyoncé and now none us can lose today pic.twitter.com/jUF4bbiSGR
— Whitney Medworth (@its_whitney) December 22, 2017