OKC Thunder: Paul George can add Rockets to list of interested suitors

Paul George OKC Thunder (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Paul George OKC Thunder (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder will have ample competition for Paul George’s services this offseason including the Houston Rockets.

The primary goal of OKC Thunder GM Sam Presti this offseason will be retaining Paul George‘s services. Although it’s not guaranteed George will opt out of his final contract year it seems likely given the dynamic of the marketplace. Should PG decide to opt in, the money he leaves on the table next season would be significant. The final year of the LA native’s contract is $20.7 million.

That amount pales in comparison to what George could collect if he were to opt out and collect on a max contract. Several suitors will happily oblige in this regard and Presti has indicated that is also OKC’s intention.

Yet, only the OKC Thunder can bring the extra year (five) to the table as George’s Bird Right’s transferred via the trade with Indy. Should PG13 do as expected and opt out, the first year of his contract is projected to be in the $30.3 million range.

By George things are looking up:

Recently, news surfaced via Paul George’s agent his client is keen to return to OKC.  Rather than jump on this as gospel it’s best to approach free agency with optimism, but with alternatives in hand. The timing is obviously tenuous because George has until June 29th to declare whether he’ll opt in. With the NBA Draft occurring eight days earlier (June 21) it leaves no space to make alternative moves.

If George does the expected and opts out then the OKC Thunder will have to wait until the Free Agency Moratorium (July 1) to begin negotiations and tender a preliminary offer. Formal contracts can be signed on July 6th.

LeBron James will draw the most interest and attention, but Paul George will be a highly sought free agent as well. Approximately 135 free agents could be available depending on teams and players exercising options. Aside from LeBron and PG there aren’t many superstar talents in the mix. Former OKC Thunder star Kevin Durant is expected to re-sign with his super team. and DeMarcus Cousins will be limited due to his Achilles injury.

There are several players who are ideal as third options or specialists and a handful of restricted youngsters who could offer a solution for a team needing to add one more piece to the puzzle.

Rockets will target Paul George:

This is why news Daryl Morey is keen to recruit Paul George is so interesting. Of those restricted free agents potentially the most appealing of the group is  Rockets Clint Capela. Based on his quality production in the postseason, age and still untapped ceiling he’ll likely be approached by some teams looking to extend him the maximum offer possible .

Kelly Iko of Rockets Wire states Daryl Morey will aggressively pursue adding LeBron James or Paul George this summer. First, Morey will need to negotiate with Chris Paul who reportedly wants to return after pushing the Warriors to the brink. Albeit, with him sidelined in the last two games of the conference finals due to a hamstring injury.

"With the offseason approaching, the Rockets will once again be aggressive in free agency, targeting James or George, both sources said. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record about George."

This will be an extremely tricky maneuver by Morey given Houston’s current salary status. With next season’s salary cap expectation of  $101 million the Rockets are already invested to the tune of approximately $80M. This doesn’t factor in Chris Paul or free agents Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela. That’s three starters for Houston.

Of these, Paul will rightfully request the $35.5M he can earn. Especially because he opted in last summer to make the trade feasible for Houston and lost money by doing so.

Iko’s suggested Houston path only benefits Rockets:

Iko suggests Morey would be looking for George to do something similar (and presumably James). The problem with this scenario is twofold. First of all, asking players to leave over $10M on the table is a big ask. Second, the assets the Rockets want to dangle aren’t exactly desirable (Ryan Anderson).

The latter was appealing if Carmelo Anthony would waive his no trade for this option because Anderson at least could be a productive floor spacer and has no issue playing reserve minutes. His salary however. still has two years with no team or player options.

Iko suggests Morey can get creative, but it’s difficult to see a pathway for Houston where they aren’t the only winners. Nabbing George via him opting in results in the star losing money and trading for Anderson results in the OKC Thunder taking on a longer albatross contract to marry with Carmelo Anthony‘s. Why on earth would Presti have a desire to do that? Especially to a team they would feel capable of beating if they re-sign George and boast a healthy Andre Roberson.

OKC Thunder Salary Cap Woes:

Granted OKC are in a more difficult salary situation than Houston. That said, unlike the Rockets, by re-signing George they can bring back their entire starting five if they so desire. The expectation however is OKC will hope Carmelo Anthony opts out of his final contract year of $27.9M (fat chance).

Alternatively, OKC will probably look to buy out the disenchanted star and hopefully use the stretch provision. Then again, if Morey can’t nab James or Paul perhaps he’ll be open to revisiting the Melo option (yeah, I know — I’m beating a dead horse with this ongoing wish).

Moreyball vs. Why Not?:

More from Thunderous Intentions

The more I look at Houston’s situation, I’m not convinced they won’t be in tough to improve their roster for next season. In fact, it’s conceivably they could regress.

Ariza couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.The forward was an “O-fer” missing all 12 shot attempts including nine perimeter shots.

Despite his off night Ariza was the primary defender on Durant and clearly that task took a toll. Not having him return would put pressure on the starters and specifically Houston’s improved defense. Nearing his 33rd birthday, this contract negotiation is Ariza’s last opportunity to land a long term relatively lucrative deal.

Re-signing the trio of Houston starters offers it’s own unique issues. No doubt teams will try to sway Capela, Paul will be expecting payback for his commitment last season and Ariza’s tenure has been the one constant beside James Harden. If Morey could bring back Capela and Paul odds are he’ll have to forfeit Ariza in order to keep his other options in play.

Contract Notes:

I spoke to Real GM’s Keith Smith to get clarity on the Rockets contract situation. He quantified and clarified a few components of the process.

  • Another team could try to lure Capela and input crazy caveats much like what occurred with Otto Porter Jr. last season and Washington. Smith suggests the Rockets will look to take care of Capela right away removing this scenario. And, regardless of the negotiation Houston will still retain the right to match any offer.
  • In terms of who Houston sign first, Smith advises it doesn’t matter. Regardless of who they ink first between Capela and Paul will push the Rockets over the cap.

OKC Thunder have upper hand:

For George who said he found the process of learning and fitting into a new system onerous that might also be a deterrent. Part of the allure of the OKC Thunder is having overcome those growing pains. Beside Roberson, PG13 has a defensive partner or equal or greater ilk. Adams also offers strength upfront and more size than Capela. Russ makes George’s life easier on both ends and particularly offensively.

Don’t take this wrong, it’s a veritable certainty Daryl Morey will make every effort to improve his roster. Yet, to land Paul George the Rockets need both the star and his current team to take the downward position in the deal. Putting aside the fan bias and hope even practically this makes no sense.

Next: Painful little lies: Durant remains petty toward Thunder

Thanks again to Keith Smith for clarifying the Rockets salary situation and contract details.