It wasn’t long ago, one year to be exact when Paul George stood up in front of a few hundred Thunder fans at a house party in Arcadia, OK with a cigar in his hand, announcing that he’d be returning to Oklahoma City.
Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder gambled on George after the 2017-2018 season in free agency, knowing his desire to take his talents from Indiana to Los Angeles. However, Indiana refused to comply with PG’s trade demand to the Lakers but agreed to a trade for OKC’s Domantis Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. George was en route to OKC with every NBA fan in the world knowing that he’d be a one-year rental for the Thunder.
That was before Paul realized his admiration for Russell Westbrook as a friend and a teammate. Westbrook campaigned for George to stay in OKC during the entire season, despite a failed experiment between him, George and Carmelo Anthony. As already mentioned a few paragraphs ago, it worked.
Exactly one year after George agreed to extend his tenure with the Thunder, George made a groundbreaking decision to team up with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles…as a Clipper.
Immediately after the news broke via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski at 12:54 am on Saturday morning, social media erupted, and fans across the nation went for Sam Presti’s name and per usual, Westbrook’s as well.
It was slightly more understandable when fans were down on Presti for losing James Harden and Kevin Durant. It was also more understandable when those same fans said Westbrook was toxic and the leading factor behind Durant leaving OKC unannounced.
Once again, Presti was blindsided, but this time he was offered an option. George and his agent went to Presti and requested a trade after being recruited by the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
Presti had no other option but to jump and make a quick decision, and he made the right one. In no way did Oklahoma City want to go through what the New Orleans Pelicans went through with Anthony Davis this past season. A disgruntled star player in a market the size of OKC would have been more crippling than what actually happened. Presi made the best out of an unpredictable situation.
In return, Oklahoma City got a boatload of assets, which will most likely be the foundation for their rebuild. They received three unprotected first-round draft picks (2022, 2024, and 2026), two first rounders rerouted via Miami (2021 unprotected and 2023 lottery protected), the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025 (unprotected), as well as Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in return for George.
Nonetheless, while social media tries to turn this trade request back into the ‘Westbrook being a toxic teammate’ narrative, this actually says more about George and the type of businessman he is.
George’s time in OKC was short but sweet. Despite the injuries and the broken expectations of a championship, George was beloved by Thunder fans, especially after his announcement in Arcadia. He appeared to be a soft-spoken, clean-cut and humble type of guy, which fit directly into the Oklahoma way. But as OKC fans should have learned after the Durant saga three years ago, it’s hard to trust a man’s word, especially in professional sports. This is a business and once again, OKC learned that the hard way.
This move exposes PG more than anybody or any organization associated. There’s been a trend over the past two and a half years with George: He’s not always a man of his word, and he’s easily persuaded.
Jump back with me to three seasons ago, the 2016-2017 season where questions regarding George’s 2018 free agency crept up. George made it clear that he wanted to return home to the Los Angeles area to play for his childhood favorite franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers.
On June 18, 2017, when he formally told the Pacers that he planned to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and leave the Pacers, Indiana was all but forced to make a move. When talks with the Lakers fell through, Indiana traded him to OKC.
Through that first season as a member of the Thunder, it was a foregone conclusion that he’d join the Lakers. However, Thunder and more notably, his friend and teammate Westbrook persuaded him to sign a multi-year deal with OKC. At this point, Lakers fans felt betrayed, because George, for a season and a half kept alluding to wanting to return home, yet he switched up and was convinced to do otherwise.
The city of Los Angeles got the last laugh. Right after PG ranted and raved about Westbrook, the Thunder organization and discussed his future as a member of the Thunder during his exit interviews just months ago, George was once again, persuaded to do something contrary to what he previously verbally, or contractually agreed to.
With the Thunder left with options, but not championship-caliber options, George has single-handedly forced this small market franchise into a rebuild mentality where they’ll have three likely options.
Presti could either opt to rebuild, once again, around Westbrook who will be 31 in November, go all in and rebuild around a young, talented rookie in Gilgeous-Alexander and their stock of draft picks, or use Gallinari’s contract, a few of those draft picks and Steven Adams to get another star in OKC.
Either way, OKC got blindsided once again, which seems to be a trend in the month of July. One thing I do know is that this isn’t a reflection on Russell Westbrook whatsoever.