At this point, everyone is aware of Sam Presti trading Paul George during peak club hours early Sunday morning.
The trade represented PG’s discontent with the direction the Thunder organization is headed, and Kawhi Leonard consequently recruiting him.
The Thunder still have Westbrook, right? Well as of now the answer is yes, but that may change soon after Russell Westbrook and his agent Thad Foucher started negotiations with Presti on the next steps, which included the possibility of a trade. Both of those bombshells took place over a 24-hour period.
Since then, Westbrook’s discontentment with the organization has been publicized and as a result, Russ ‘welcomes’ a trade to another team for the first time in his 11-year NBA career.
When thinking about these two player’s skill set and what they mean to the franchise, you’d think OKC losing them meant complete doom for the foreseeable future. As a matter of fact, if you looked at Thunder fans and some media members tweets you’d think the same.
Everyone is being overly dramatic.
Yes, it’s difficult to see PG leave OKC after just two years. Fans were really developing an attachment to their new superstar. With Russ, it’s almost depressing to even hear the trade speculations. Although change has come and with more change looming for the Thunder, they aren’t tanking, Oklahoma City isn’t losing the franchise, and this won’t be a bottom-tier team for the next decade.
The Thunder got a staggering amount of first-round draft picks from the Los Angeles Clippers, but the success of those picks aren’t guaranteed. Still, this overwhelming amount of young picks for the Thunder draw a ton of attention, so much attention that you probably overlooked what a steal the Thunder got out of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Shai is cut from the same cloth as Westbrook.
After not making his high school varsity team in ninth grade, and not being a college prospect until his junior year of high school, he knows what it’s like to have to work, and has displayed that over the course of his rookie season with the Clippers. Other than moving from Hamilton, ON in Canada to Chattanooga, TN, his story matches up quite similarly to Westbrook’s. Gilgeous-Alexander was coming off the University of Kentucky’s bench just a year and a half ago as well.
After being drafted 11th in the NBA Draft last season, he blossomed into one of the brightest young players in basketball. He averaged 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists on 47.6 percent shooting and 36.7 percent from three. He plays defense, he has great offensive and defensive awareness for a rookie, he has a hopeful shooting stroke, and most importantly, he’s a leader.
Gilgeous-Alexander was on the NBA’s all-rookie second team but was a fringe first-teamer, finishing the 2018-2019 season sixth in rookie of the year voting. Westbrook as a rookie finished fourth in rookie of the year voting and was named to the all-rookie first team. Both in the same ball-park.
One of their two most obvious similarities, is their fashion sense. Both very fashionable, flashy dressers that like to take chances. The comparisons are glaring.
NBA executives have the same expectations of Gilgeous-Alexander as Westbrook had after his rookie season. While nobody knows if he’ll develop into the transcendent player Westbrook has become, he’s expected to be extremely good.
The Clippers didn’t want to give up Gilgeous-Alexander. He was reported to be “untouchable” in trade talks, including when the franchise was looking for a deal to get Anthony Davis. It took the chance of getting two all-stars for the Clippers to let go of their talented rookie point guard, which says something.
Matt Chong of clipperholics.com wrote that in Gilgeous-Alexander, “the Clippers held their key to the future. A future aspiring towards perennial title contention, league domination and a further reshaping of the Clippers’ public image. To many of us, that meant riding out the growing pains and watching a young man blossom into the All-Star-caliber player he clearly is. And we would all have been more than happy to witness that growth! He’s an incredible young player and an even better person.”
The fact that a franchise cherished a rookie as much as the Clippers did, to the point of turning down a Davis trade possibility shows a lot, and that’s why Thunder fans need to take a step back off the ledge, take this emotional hit that every established NBA franchise endures every so often, and trust Presti’s process.
This is a long-term sport, and Gilgeous-Alexander’s upside is much than George’s. George is an all-star right now, but with all the injuries he’s suffered over his nine-year career, including him having two shoulder surgeries heading into his 10th, his best years may be behind him. Gilgeous-Alexander is nine years younger than George, on the brink of 21 years old and has the rest of his career ahead of him, full of high expectations. Remember when Westbrook was 20 years old?
Whether Westbrook is disgruntled or not with the Thunder, he’s welcoming the opportunity to be traded off and it doesn’t appear like Presti is resisting. Why? Because Presti understands that Westbrook is nearing his 31st birthday, and Gilgeous-Alexander is OKC’s point guard for the future.
It would be dope to watch Westbrook foster in his eventual replacement, teaching Gilgeous-Alexander the way and easing him into the position over the next few years. It would also be interesting for all of that to happen while playing alongside Gilgeous-Alexander in a two-guard set.
But whether that happens or not, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will rise to the occasion as OKC’s next star point guard and the Thunder will be back to successful form soon enough.