CJ McCollum comments on OKC Thunder highlight intangible luck factor

Paul George of the OKC Thunder defends CJ McCollum (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Paul George of the OKC Thunder defends CJ McCollum (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

As a guest on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast guard CJ McCollum noted if the OKC Thunder had been in the Blazers position and made the West’s Finals they would’ve run it back.

Luck – we’ve noted it repeatedly here, stating just how much it plays a factor in the NBA. Whether it’s the luck of being healthy, the luck of momentum building at the right time or the luck of one player being the key ingredient which makes a lineup thrive. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. For example, the unlucky turn which witnessed OKC Thunder superstar Paul George felled by two shoulder injuries and kept Andre Roberson sidelined all season could easily have been the difference in the season.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, there is no denying one lucky or unlucky break can easily be the difference in winning a championship or a team being ripped apart. In retrospect, Thunder fans will always wonder if the shoulder injuries George sustained began the domino effect the team finds itself in as they enter the new R and R era.

CJ McCollum certainly believes the situation in OKC could be entirely different if it’s the Thunder who land in the Western Conference Finals instead of the Blazers. The resulting effect is OKC shipped out their two superstars instigated by the PG trade demand, while the Blazers not only run it back but reward McCollum with a three-year, $100 million extension, increasing his contract total deal to five-years for $157 million.

During the Woj Pod one of the main topics centered around the first round series between the Blazers and Thunder and the fallout from the series. Specifically, McCollum pointed to the embarrassing sweep the season prior by the Pelicans. As for the shooting guards comments about Paul George staying in OKC, it stems from Woj initially asking the shooting guard if he thought he’d be signing an extension if the Blazers lost in the first round instead.

"“If we had lost in the first round again, I think there would’ve been a lot of changes within our organization, not just players. I think that with the state and status of the league right now where it’s at with the turnaround, how quick things can change a great year can turn into a bad year and then people hit the switch you know we talked about it offline on how some days the owner might wake up and want to fire the coach just because  he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or because of a knee jerk reaction to something that happened.I think a lot of things would’ve changed.  You look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. What happens if they beat us? What happens if they get to the Western Conference Finals? Russ and PG probably stay together, Kawhi (Leonard) probably stays in Toronto. It’s like a domino effect, a lot of things happen to where you never know. You never know what could happen, honestly.”"

The precarious nature of the NBA:

McCollum isn’t wrong – about the precarious nature of the NBA or how luck plays a factor. In fact, a perfect example is the eerie similarity of the Blazers to the Raptors of the past six seasons.  Both squads have made the postseason in these past six seasons. Toronto has held home court for six straight years while the Blazers (in the tougher Western Conference) finished with home court in half of the six and were seeded third in the last two seasons.

Like the Raptors of 2013-14 through 2017-18, the teams’ offenses were predicated on their star backcourts. In both cases, the teams followed up a first round surprising sweep with a Conference Finals appearance. Another similarity is both squads eventual oust came when teams shut down those backcourts forcing other teammates to become the primary offensive weapons.

Following the Raptors conference finals appearance in 2016, the Raptors signed DeRozan to a five year deal (much like what the Blazers just gave McCollum via his the extension). And, in another similar move, the Blazers are now building up their reserve depth with youngsters as the Raptors initiated two seasons ago when they featured Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norm Powell, and Jakob Poltl.

The main difference between these teams is the Raptors trajectory was slightly ahead and after two consecutive years of semi final sweeps by LeBron’s Cavaliers, Masai Ujiri pulled the plug to add a superstar (Kawhi Leonard) while promoting and featuring several of his reserve youngsters.

OKC Thunder shift could all tie back to bad luck:

The OKC Thunder are in a position quite unique in the West as they’ve only missed the playoffs twice in 11 seasons and have always had a superstar talent. Their issue was failing to capitalize on arguably having the deeper squads at specific moments during this incredible period of success. Westbrook singlehandedly pulled the Thunder into the playoffs in 2016-17 but after adding George the team failed to live up to expectations these last two seasons.

This year’s first round loss to the Blazers ultimately resulted in the shocking and surprising shift in direction and one the franchise didn’t see coming.

The point is CJ McCollum is more accurate than he realizes. If the Thunder, for example, had swept the Blazers would Neil Olshey be shopping McCollum looking to switch up a backcourt who presumably had reached their ceiling? Or if next season the Blazers underachieve will Olshey question running it back with the same personnel?

Had the Thunder as McCollum suggests made it to the WCF would George and Westbrook be happily ensconced in OKC hoping for good fortune this season?

Thunder fans may view this situation as fortunate or lucky in retrospect:

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That’s the thing with luck one injury, or one unlucky bounce can invariably shift the entire fortune and future of a club. Granted, it’s likely the Thunder are on a similar trajectory to what lay ahead –  just one year earlier.

Sam Presti made it clear paying into the luxury wasn’t sustainable for this small market team. And, clearly, Paul George wasn’t going to be open to anything short of deep playoff runs, even if his performance was part of the reason for the team’s failure.

In hindsight, once the R and R directive is complete we’ll need to look back and reassess the situation. No one will ever convince me Thunder fans will be happy about losing Russell Westbrook or that George forced his departure.

That said, I’d also put good money on the Blazers not being able to take another step up the ladder without a third star added to the mix in Portland and won’t be surprised if within three years McCollum (like DeRozan) is traded to add a “different” star to pair with Dame.

But hey, in three seasons the Thunder could be back in the upper echelon with an entirely new set of superstars having been on the receiving end of some lucky lottery bounces.

How Thunder backcourt duo Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can thrive together. dark. Next

If those things come to pass, instead of reflecting on this season as one where luck didn’t favor the OKC Thunder, we might be changing our tune to say – 2019’s misfortune resulted in long term fortune!