Paul George left OKC Thunder with no choice but to rebuild

Paul George OKC Thunder (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
Paul George OKC Thunder (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images) /

Whether fairly or not, with his trade demand Paul George will forever be cited as the reason the first competitive era of the OKC Thunder ended.

For as shellshocked as the fanbase is the OKC Thunder rebuild shouldn’t come as a surprise given the exit of Paul George. By requesting a trade PG initiated the domino effect of the rebuild. The Thunder could’ve considered packaging some assets and some or all of the five draft picks accumulated and the two draft swaps from the Paul George exit to run it back.

That scenario could be debated as postponing the inevitable early playoff exit. However, the trade of Jerami Grant made it a moot point as it signifies the rebuild being in full motion.

In hindsight, the haul Sam Presti got for George is arguably more impressive than what the Pelicans got at least initially for Anthony Davis.

I say initially because David Griffin made swift work of turning the Lakers fourth pick in the lottery into two picks Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. If you’ve witnessed that duo in Vegas you understand why I say “initially” got in return for Anthony Davis. I was super high on Jaxson Hayes, to begin with, and more than a little familiar with NAW given his Canadian heritage, but both already look like they fell a bit too far down the draft seeding.

My point is the OKC Thunder shouldn’t be assuming the team will be spending a decade or worse mired in the lottery. The New Orleans revamp may not immediately translate into the Pelicans reaching the playoffs this coming season but it offers a perfect template for how to quickly turn things around.

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By utilizing draft picks David Griffin added smart picks and took other picks to make equally as intelligent additions to the Pelicans. Derrick Favors is a perfect addition who can help Zion Williamson transition to a pro and with Favors being a player who plays both frontcourt positions he’s a great mentor for Zion who it’s likely the Pels will hope can play some small ball five eventually.

As for the OKC Thunder, the hot narrative is Russell Westbrook requested a trade but the uncertainty of when he precisely asked for the move is up for discussion. Did Russ approach Presti right after another early playoff loss? Or did he meet with Presti once Paul George demanded a trade?

From a practical standpoint, it’s likely Westbrook and Presti discussed the direction of the team at season end. If at that time Presti told Russ they were going to cut costs and find economical fits Westbrook may well have said: well maybe it’s time for me to move to a team willing to spend to win. It’s equally likely Westbrook (as he always has) said I just want to win so let’s make this happen.

I’m not sure when (if ever) we’ll learn the truth about this as it behooves the franchise to position themselves as if they were simply doing what Westbrook wanted. Especially in light of the fanbase dealing with the loss of a superstar.

What can’t be debated is it made zero sense for Sam Presti to take the draft pick haul obtained for Paul George just to go get another star who might not stay long term either.

Thank you, Russell Westbrook; a trip down memory lane. dark. Next

Ultimately, Paul George’s trade request kick-started the rebuild and he’ll forever be attached to the initial domino that ended the 11 year run of OKC Thunder and resulted in the last of the big four (Westbrook, Durant, Harden, Ibaka) exiting OKC.