Truth behind Paul George trade: 48 hour time limit and one draft pick tipped the scales

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George LAC intro discuss OKC Thunder trade (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George LAC intro discuss OKC Thunder trade (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

The Paul George trade to the L.A. Clippers came precariously close to not happening based on one extra draft pick.

In case you missed Jackie MacMullen’s excellent ESPN article she dives in deep to how coaches are being affected by the sudden player empowerment era of the NBA. This summer has proven if nothing else that the superstars hold all the power and it’s up to teams to not only bend to their will but make the most of those circumstances when they come. In the OKC Thunder situation, General Manager, Sam Presti didn’t just have to respond but do so under the parameters of having 48 hours to trade Paul George where he wanted to go or face the possibility of not ever getting the value the star wing player was worth.

In retrospect, Paul George tried to paint a picture of how everyone involved knew when he signed his 4-year max extension this past season it was just a test. An experiment to decipher if all parties would remain committed to the pursuit of winning together in OKC. Those comments never sat right with yours truly and it’s likely most of the Thunder fan base also know they were simply throw away remarks made by a player who fully knew his demands drastically changed the direction of the OKC Thunder for the foreseeable future.

In truth, this “R and R” era was coming sooner than later, but imagine being Sam Presti and getting the call from George’s agent. “Paul wants to be traded to the Clippers and you have 48 hours to complete that mission.” If Presti fails to deliver on the request consider the alternative of what would’ve come to pass. While this is speculation, it’s a safe bet George would have publicly demanded a trade at that point (after all, he did it before with Indiana). If that happens Presti’s options and leverage disappear.

We can sit and wonder if the trade didn’t happen whether Kawhi Leonard would’ve in fact returned to his title winning Raptors or gone down the hall to the Clippers rental partners of the Staples Center to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Those questions will never be known because Presti delivered PG to the Clippers and they, in turn, provided the haul of all hauls in order to get him.

MacMullen’s article, however, speaks to just how close the deal came to never happening and the specifics of the negotiations. Kudo’s to Sam Presti for not just bending over and giving in for the already impressive package he’d negotiated with Lawrence Frank but pushing the Clippers to the brink of the deal almost not happening.

That sounds stark, but MacMullen’s article clarifies all the circumstances and timing. First, getting Shai Gilegeous-Alexander was a must for the OKC Thunder to even enter the discussions.

"The quest for Kawhi Leonard had been thorny, complicated. A flurry of text messages from Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank updated Rivers regularly as the lateral pursuit of Paul George, the bait that would entice the big fish to bite, began in earnest. Oklahoma City’s price was steep — an insistence on young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a player Doc adored, and multiple first-round picks. Ballmer drew the line at four."

The sticking point as it turns out was Ballmer not wanting to give away more than four draft picks, and again courtesy of McMullen’s article it turns out Doc Rivers was the one who talked his owner into giving the fifth pick Presti was holding up the trade over.  As noted, Rivers was the one who got the Clippers to view the George trade package as if it was to acquire two top talents.

"Rivers trusted Frank, his longtime friend and colleague, to manage the negotiations, but it didn’t stop him from sheepishly excusing himself from his Nobu table, stepping outside the oceanfront eatery and calling Ballmer himself to implore him to throw in that fifth first-round selection.“It wasn’t just for Paul George,” Rivers would explain afterward, “it was for Paul George and Kawhi. We weren’t getting one without the other.”"

Let that ruminate for a second. Unless Rivers makes that phone call this trade may never have occurred. George then gets shopped and likely for nowhere near the same haul since by that point his desire to leave becomes public and those five draft picks and two draft swaps never land in OKC.

light. Related Story. Paul George left Thunder with no choice but to rebuild

Getting back to MacMullen’s piece, there are other interesting takeaways which circle specifically around Paul George. Coaches Stever Kerr and Alvin Gentry both cite PG’s situation in OKC and how it went down as a negative for how player empowerment is affecting the league. They include the handling of Anthony Davis in this scenario, but the George situation takes precedence given he had only just completed one year of his renewed contract and the parameters of his 48-hour trade demand to a specific landing spot no less.

Kerr holds back no punches and while he tells MacMullen he knows the Warriors reaped the rewards of Kevin Durant leaving OKC to land in the Bay, his issue isn’t with players taking advantage of their free agency. Rather his concern is situations like Davis and in the case of George cites it as “bad for business”.

"Kerr says he has no issue with players departing in free agency, but he does take umbrage with those who force their way out of town before their contracts are up, citing both Anthony Davis and Paul George as examples.“That’s the real danger,” says Kerr. “That’s where you start to get concerned. At least I do. As for our league, it’s bad for business.”"

Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry is even more frosty over these types of situations with his true feelings jumping off the page.

"“You have Paul George, one of our premier players in the league, who was paid very well by the team, suddenly announce, ‘Hey, I want to be traded,'” Gentry says. “You have no recourse but to get the best deal you can."

The Pelicans coach also tells ESPN, the players don’t value contracts and offers a comment which is likely made more out of sarcasm, but given what Paul George did, it’s easy to understand the sentiment.

"Gentry feels the league is to the point that contracts “don’t really mean anything anymore, so make them all two-year deals. It will save us a lot of headaches.”"

And, it’s not unreasonable for coaches to feel this way or the management teams of franchises. When George re-signed with the team despite being in the luxury tax Presti went about to surround the PG and the Thunder mainstay, superstar Russell Westbrook with the talent he could add given the restrictions of the salary situation he was working with.

The truth behind what OKC Thunder dealt with:

At least now fans know precisely how this situation went down. George literally gave Presti only 48 hours to complete this deal.

"After George requested his trade from the Thunder — and pushed to have it consummated within 48 hours — Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti lamented the ability of players under contract to talk with and recruit one another without penalty. It is one of many factors the league office is considering."

OKC Thunder fans will forever look back upon this period as the end of the first era of the franchise and shift into its second iteration. In hindsight, we may all cheer the superstar demanding this trade and the fact Presti was able to deliver to the satisfaction of all parties.

More from Thunder News

In two years when both George and Leonard can opt out of their deals and re-enter free agency Thunder fans could be sitting with a myriad of young assets, draft cupboards still teeming with assets and poised to enter the most anticipated draft class in recent history looking to make a leap back into contention.

Conversely, PG and Leonard could have titles or possibly dissatisfied with two years of not delivering could turn to Lawrence Frank and say we’re leaving with the Clippers draft cupboards holding only dust.

Or, the two stars could tell Frank next summer – yeah it was just a one year experiment I want you to trade to me xyz destination in the next 48 hours. At least this time it won’t be Sam Presti with his back against the wall to deliver in a time crunch.

Paul George’s insights on player empowerment, exit from OKC raise eyebrows. dark. Next

No matter how you view what happened this summer and the next era of the franchise, the one thing every OKC Thunder fan should remember and be thankful for is Sam Presti kept his cool, insisted on the uber-talented SGA and knew five, not four draft picks was the tipping point!