If you’ve read NBA twitter over the past three years, or maybe you’ve watched a sports debate show now an again you would know “you can’t play with Westbrook” and once a teammate of Westbrook’s leaves they go on to become a better player.
So when Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti made a blockbuster trade out of absolute nowhere acquiring perennial All-Star Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, Presti had given his superstar another opportunity and maybe his last to prove his many critics wrong.
Presti has masterfully limited the damage of losing Durant by virtually turning Serge Ibaka into Paul George. Presti traded Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the draft rights to pick No. 11 in the 2016 draft which was Sabonis. The Thunder would go on to turn Ilyasova into Jerami Grant who has grown to be an integral part of this current Thunder team, and someone Presti is desperate to resign this offseason, Presti would go on to turn Oladipo and Sabonis into George. Presti also managed to go on and trade for future hall of famer, Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks trading Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick from the Chicago Bulls.
The season following Durant’s departure Westbrook was on a one-man mission to destroy anything and everything that was in his path going on to be the second man in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season the first being Oscar Robertson. Westbrook would also go on to break the record for the most triple-doubles in a single season recording 42 triple doubles passing Robertson who had 41 back in 1961-62.
For every historical feat, Westbrook accomplished, and every arena he rampaged through leaving opposing crowds chanting MVP like he was one of their very own the Thunder ultimately were eliminated in the first round by former Westbrook teammate and Thunder sixth man James Harden and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder recognized they need to put something alongside Westbrook the one year rampage kept the Thunder afloat and relevant which is a tough thing to do when you lose an MVP, and you’re in a small market, but Westbrook along with Presti managed to do it, but it was apparent they needed more.
Presti and the Thunder would go on to force themselves into the Paul George stakes by giving themselves a full season head start on the competition to try and sell George on the Thunder, Westbrook and Oklahoma fishing. The Thunder would ultimately fall again in round one of the playoffs to rookie Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in a disappointing playoff run by the Thunder. Thunder fans got a glimpse of what could have been for this Thunder team if it would have been just George and Westbrook leading this team instead of a trio of Westbrook, George, and Anthony. The Thunder made a historic comeback in game five of the series as they were down 25 points in the third quarter until Westbrook and George went off and viciously clawed the Jazz back to win game five and display to the world what the potential of this duo could be.
It was always going to be an anxious offseason for the Thunder with the uncertainty of George’s decision which was tied to LeBron James and what he was going to do. It also didn’t help with the media putting out reports that varied from he was staying to he was already a Laker they where just waiting for free agency to start.
The national media never gave the Thunder a chance of getting George to stay in Oklahoma. To the media it was inconceivable that George would want to stay and keep playing alongside Westbrook in a small market like Oklahoma after just leaving Indiana, they all thought he was going home to Los Angeles to wear the famous purple and gold alongside LeBron James. Someone forgot to tell Westbrook this though.
Throughout the 2017-18 season, Westbrook displayed confidence when it came to the topic of George returning to the Thunder. There was the time Westbrook was asked what his sales pitch would be when the time came to recruiting George back to OKC Westbrook responded well very Westbrook like.
“Sales pitch gonna be when we win a championship,” “Beat that pitch.” – Westbrook said after being asked about his “sales pitch” to Paul George
Now as we know, the Thunder failed in the championship department, but Westbrooks confidence was very loud in his answer. Then there was All-Star weekend in both George and Westbrooks hometown of Los Angeles where Westbrook was in a media scrum not too far from George when a large group of fans could be overheard chanting “We Want Paul! We Want Paul!” Westbrook didn’t like one second of it, and as he has done so many times on the basketball court Westbrook displayed his ”Alpha” personality and made sure his voice was heard yelling back at said fans “Paul ain’t going nowhere!” “It’s over for that!”
There was a strange level of confidence coming from a guy who had so recently been burned in the same situation after Durant’s free agency. But this was different Westbrook learned from his mistakes with Durant and George isn’t Durant. George has a young family just like Westbrook they both keep a tight circle made up of their family. Durant held a large group of friends around him, and that over time drove a wedge between himself, and Westbrook Durant talked about this in an interview with Anthony Slater of Bay Area News Group.
“Me and Russell grew up together. I was in the phase of finding out who I was outside of basketball. He already knew who he was. He already had a stable life. He had stable parents, a girlfriend through college. I didn’t have none of that stuff. I’m trying to find out who I am, which I didn’t know, which is not a bad thing. He knew who he was. So obviously we’re going to grow toward this way (splits arms). It’s not a bad thing. It’s not at all. We still hung out. We’re boys. My interest went this way, his went that way. He got married, I didn’t. He hung with his wife.”
They were merely boys that grew up to become men, but along the way, life took them in different directions.
Westbrook and George are in the same place in life both being young fathers with young families. Westbrook also had a big decision to make last season. Did he want to be in Oklahoma for the prime of his career and the first five years of his son Noah’s life? For the first time in Westbrook’s life, he had to make this decision factoring in his young son and if he wanted his young family to grow in Oklahoma and not his home state of California. George had that same decision this offseason and with the friendship of Westbrook to lean on George ultimately came up with the same answer as his good friend did, Why Not? Oklahoma is now home to the George family, and the Oklahoma City Thunder isn’t going anywhere regarding competing for a ring, sorry Houston and Golden State you can’t get rid of them that easy.
Next stop a championship. For now, mission accomplished for Sam Presti, the people of Oklahoma and most of all Russell Westbrook who claimed a little bit of redemption thanks to Paul George coming back to the Thunder on a four-year, $137 million max contract with a player option deal keeping him in a Thunder jersey for at least another three years.
As a great man once said “Scared money don’t make none” – Sam Presti 2018