What is next for Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder?

After Oklahoma City traded off both Russell Westbrook and Paul George last summer, the assumption was a franchise rebuild. The narrative moved from Chris Paul not wanting to even wear an OKC jersey, to him starting the season, but getting traded by the deadline, to him playing the entire season and getting moved in the offseason. To make a complicated situation less complicated, as usual, no one knows what Sam Presti plans to do. The only sure thing is that Chris Paul enjoyed playing in OKC more than he thought he would, and the team turned out to be better than he thought they would be.

We don’t know what this accelerated offseason has in store for CP3 or the rest of the roster, and it would be unreasonable to think that we can tap into Presti’s brainwaves, but there’s no quarrel with speculation.

At 35, it would be understandable if Paul wanted to join a team that’s in immediate title contention. He’s paid his dues, and the only mark on his record is that he hasn’t won a title or even made it to the NBA Finals. If that’s the case, based on his complete professionalism while playing for the Thunder this season, with literally no complaints, Presti should honor his wishes and trade him to an ideal situation.

But throughout this season, I’ve gotten more familiar with Paul and his personality. If this were two or three years ago, Paul would be out of the door like the house was on fire. Actually, he may have stuck with his initial reaction of not wanting to play in OKC and demanded a trade immediately.

While in OKC, in a transformative and historic season, I think Paul might have found a new purpose. For the first time in years, he enjoyed himself. He enjoyed mentoring guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, Dennis Schroder, and Hamidou Diallo, who all noticeably improved from the previous season. He led the charge in getting the NBA back on track following the hiatus in March. He focused his pregame fashion on highlighting historically black colleges and universities that are often overlooked. He led a league-wide strike in the middle of the NBA bubble restart, dead-smack in the middle of the NBA playoffs.

This Chris Paul is different than the Chris Paul from Houston and different than the Chris Paul from Los Angeles. He’s older, a lot less selfless, and I believe if Sam Presti finds Paul’s $41.3M contract worth it, he wouldn’t mind staying in OKC to build something special.

If Oklahoma City does decide to keep Paul, what moves could they make to (I can’t believe I’m saying this), contend again?

It’s a wild statement, I know, but seeing that OKC was one smart, obvious decision away from advancing to the Western Conference semis this season, the Thunder could be a couple moves away from being back in the mix. They aren’t winning a title next year, but they could put themselves in the position to be in that conversation in the next two or three years, which would still be in CP3’s timeline.

First things first, and it’s going to damage the soul of an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, but it’s time for Presti to shop Steven Adams. Time-after-time again, he’s proven to the entire NBA that he’s not worth the $25.8 million he’ll be due next season. At least, not in OKC’s current offense. In a series that should have been Adams using and abusing Houston’s starting center, PJ Tucker, he was the definition of average. Averaging just under his season average of 10.8 PPG with 10.1 in the series.

If the Thunder aren’t going to utilize him the way they need to, then it would be smart to move him for someone that better fits OKC’s mold. If the problem is with his assertiveness on offense, then maybe another team can pull the best out of him. Regardless, though, he’ll always be a fan favorite in OKC for his charismatic personality, but the time for a change is here.

Danilo Gallinari is the next-most expendable, and maybe more so than Adams because there is an heir to his position: Darius Bazley, the rookie who showed promise up to the hiatus and blossomed in the NBA’s bubble, averaging 13 PPG on 43.5% from three, including three 20-point performances. In the playoffs, Bazley’s minutes dropped from 25-35 minutes per game to 12-20 minutes, but was still effective on both ends of the floor, even recording a double-double in Game 5 with 10 points and 12 rebounds, which is right around OKC’s $25.8 million center’s season average.

Bazley is a stereotypical stretch-four option for Billy Donovan with a defensive upside. With an increased role in Gallinari’s spot, he could become more effective than Gallinari was this season, which is saying something.

Everyone could be happy. During the trade deadline, Gallinari was expecting to go to Miami, a contender, until things stalled. This offseason allows Presti to package Gallinari with a draft pick to get one of Miami’s young, but proven assets.

OKC doesn’t need a superstar. They need an unselfish role player to diversify their bench, and-or a capable center. Everyone speculated Paul leaving OKC because it was undesirable and in the dumps without the big names. They’ve been much better than that, and Donovan has superseded expectations as well. Paul may have a different mindset on life than he had before this life-changing season and possibly found a new purpose leading this young, talented Thunder team to greatness.

Addam M. Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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