The Paul George Trade: OKC Wizardry vs Indy’s Rebuild

Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves on Draft Day? Man, what a blockbuster that was. Hard to see how any other move this offseason is gonna top thaaa… wait what, Chris Paul’s been traded? Well, damn. CP3 to the Rockets hooking up with old mate Jimmy The Beard. What an insane week that was, can’t even wait to see how- … PAUL GEORGE TO THE THUNDER!? Hahaha, yes!

Coming off the worst NBA Playoffs in memory we’re now being rewarded with the best NBA Offseason in memory. Hell, that all happened before we’d even made it to free agency, where already there’s been drama. Blake Griffin re-signing with the Clippers for the sake of his legacy, J.J. Redick getting big bucks for one season as The Resident Veteran of The Process, Jeff Teague taking a peek at the Wolves after Coach Thibs went and flipped Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz who needed a point guard to help their chances of keeping Gordon Hayward. Maaaate.

Most enticing of all was Andre Iguodala threatening to break up the Golden State Warriors’ championship squad... but then he agreed to stay. Right after Steph Curry simultaneously re-signed for a supermax $200m contract, the richest deal in NBA history… for now at least. Bloody hell.

Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder though, who saw that coming? Of course OKC were involved in trade talks going back awhile, they always are. Barely a season goes by in which Sam Presti doesn’t pull trigger on something eyebrow-raising. Usually something that ends up once again confirming his own wizardry – this time he managed to flip Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Paul George.

Two major areas of craziness here: is that really all the Pacers could get and is that really all the Thunder had to offer? Technically they’re the same thing but they’re hugely different from each perspective. Let’s begin with the Thunder’s POV.

So Russell Westbrook wins MVP for his triple-double averaging exploits over the last season but they still exited the playoffs in the first round, beaten in five by a franchise that’s since added Chris Paul. Russ would’ve been putting pressure on Presti to do something that’d get this team back into contention and his contract situation is fluid which always helps for leverage. A superstar pairing, something like what he had with Kevin Durant. Steven Adams may be the Nichey Niche’s favourite kiwi son but you’re probably not going deep in the knockout stuff with Kiwi Steve as your second best player. Him as your third or fourth best starter though, that’s worth flipping a couple young dudes for, absolutely.

A year ago the Thunder traded an expiring Serge Ibaka contract for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova. Since then Ilyasova’s been swapped for Jerami Grant with a protected first round pick also going in the 76ers’ direction. Now Oladipo and Sabonis have added up to equal Paul George. Say what you want about the rental situation there, with PG13 only likely to be in town for one season, but Serge Ibaka’s contract was expiring too (he’s now a free agent).

Serge Ibaka = Paul George. That right there is the work of a magician.

Now it sounds like the Thunder are going hard at Rudy Gay in free agency. He’s been linked in trade speculation with OKC for, what, at least three years now. No guarantees there because even if he agrees something no free agency deals are official until a week after the window opens but, like… this seems to be a bit of a clue:

(Technically this was a prop for his recruitment visit but it still sounds promising)

Even if only for one season, a starting five of Russell Westbrook, Somebody Else, Paul George, Rudy Gay and Steven Adams looks rather decent, with Enes Kanter, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines and a couple others on the bench. The news isn’t as flash for Andre Roberson but to be honest even if he did crack the All-Defensive second team his lack of offence really killed the Thunder at times. Not much help being the best defender on the team if they’ve gotta sub you out in fourth quarters (OKC didn’t, because: Westbrook, but other teams might have to). He’ll get paid but OKC don’t have the cap space to go much beyond his qualifying restricted offer and somebody else is gonna call their bluff on that one, although the PG Trade actually lowers their total salary which helps. But Taj Gibson’s a free agent too and he’s out the door.

So there’s work to be done still by Presti. OKC have holes that need filling but the beauty of his time as GM there is that they’ve always had the room to make a move. There’s a situation now in getting Russell Westbrook signed up long term and there’s one in trying to convince Paul George not to jump to LA next season. Last year they had a similar thing with Russ and Kevin Durant and they lost one. They then, after getting Russ down in ink, moved to get some of their young talent signed up. Steven Adams signed a big one, as did Oladipo. Four years + $100m for Adams and four years + $84m for Dipo.

Gotta be 100% honest here, those are terrible contracts. Both really likable players with lots to offer but goddamn did they overpay them. Even Adams, again, can’t ever say a bad word about him but from a team point of view that deal looks awful now a year later. You can deal with one bad contract but two and you’re kinda stuck. Hence why you can also look at this as making up for a mistake a year ago. Oladipo’s $21m/year for the next four seasons is off the books – he’s a good shooter and a hard worker but you can get the same stuff for half that price elsewhere, to be fair. Didn’t reach the levels of consistency they needed for him to be the secondary playmaker that they wanted him to be and don’t forget he was often leading that famously atrocious bench unit. Now Billy Donovan can stagger the minutes of Westbrook and George and, bingo, those bench worries aren’t such a big deal anymore.

But seriously Indy, that’s all you could get for a perennial All Star? Hmm, actually no, it ain’t that simple. Word is that they had at least two offers that were considerably better, Denver were ready to give up Emmanuel Mudiay as part of a bigger package while Cleveland had Kevin Love on the table. The Boston Celtics were obviously involved in chats too but being a probable rental they weren’t so keen to part with their best assets. Which means, according to Zach Lowe, no: “Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, the 2018 Nets pick, and the Lakers-Kings pick Boston snared from Philly in the Markelle Fultz blockbuster”.

Yet they went for the OKC offer, which didn’t even have a draft pick in it. Surely they coulda snatched a draft pick. At least they come out of it with two players who can be a part of their rebuild for the long term and that’s two more than they would’ve got had they held on to George to leave in 2018 free agency. Kevin Pritchard is the head honcho of basketball operations in Indiana and he’d spent the last few weeks driving up this bidding war for the dude only to end up accepting this – either he really loves Dipo and Doma or he really, really didn’t want to trade PG13 to an Eastern Conference rival.

The Pacers may have copped a blow by finally accepting they had to trade Paul George but Oladipo can be a handy asset and Myles Turner is already a quality player. With Jimmy Butler having left the Eastern Conference, with Gordon Hayward hitting free agency, with the Celtics not getting their star (yet), with the Heat not getting their star (yet – and there aren’t enough to go round), with the Raptors trying to tempt Kyle Lowry back in FA, with the Knicks being the Knicks, the Eastern Conference isn’t getting any more crowded.

It could be that the Pacers prioritised player who were NBA-proven but with room to grow as the next incarnation of their team grows. Kevin Love is the best player linked in return but they won’t see themselves as threatening for championships in the time that Love would be around, while in two or three years as Dipo and Doma hit their next contracts maybe they will. At least you have to plan for that much. Rookies and draft picks are risky as hell, Indy obviously wanted to trust what they got back in return, especially if they already view Myles Turner as the cornerpiece.

Which all comes back to not wanting to strengthen an Eastern opponent. The Pacers, apparently, think they can stay semi-relevant through their rebuild without completely bottoming out – as the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat have tried to do. They weren’t necessarily out for the best return, they wanted the best return for their situation and this must have been it.

Could’ve at least asked for a second-rounder as well though, surely.

Do like Russ does and trust the process by giving a big ol’ slap on an ad whenever you read something worthy on Le Cache. Every click = positive karmic value.