Seated with virtual fans for Game 3 of the NBA Finals, OKC Thunder guard Chris Paul hinted at a return in an on-air ESPN interview.
With the NBA Finals progressing the 2019-20 season is coming closer to crowning a champion. While the OKC Thunder are already engaged in their offseason captain Chris Paul has remained active whether promoting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), talking on various podcasts, and continuing his philanthropic efforts.
This past Sunday during Game 3 of the NBA Finals Paul popped up on the TV screen as he joined the virtual fans who attend the games and pepper the perimeter of the AdventHealth Arena. The TV broadcast team of Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Mike Breen spotted him and got him to join them during the program to ask him a number of questions.
The main question which OKC Thunder fans undoubtedly leaned in closer to hear the response to was tied to the veteran point guard’s future. Van Gundy praised Paul for an MVP type season and then asked about his future. The former coach didn’t come right out and ask if he was looking to leave the OKC Thunder to play for a contender or if that was the direction Paul was taking. Instead, Van Gundy posed the question more along the lines of whether Paul was content playing for a rebuilding squad versus a contender. ESPN posted the question and Pauls’s response on their Twitter account.
“I was wondering how content are you to play your twilight years in the NBA in what could be a rebuilding situation?” -Van Gundy
Paul’s response immediately generated action on social media because he refused to bite. In fact, if anything, his answer hinted more of a return than a departure:
“ I just love to hoop. Coach Billy Donovan was amazing, my teammates were great, Sam Presti’s been amazing since I got there. So for me, you call it twilight years, I call it a blessing you know I mean just to be able to compete at a high level at 35 years old – – I’m just gonna keep rolling.” -Paul
The Point God also paid homage to Thunder Nation when discussing how different it is to play in the bubble instead of at home in front of the fans. Paul also spoke about the emphasis on voting noting 90 percent of the players are registered – that’s up from 26 percent that had registered early in the bubble process.
Paul’s openness to returning to OKC Thunder shouldn’t be surprising
As for Van Gundy’s question, it’s noteworthy how everyone assumes the OKC Thunder is committed to rebuilding although Sam Presti hasn’t stated that to be the case. Fans and analysts are primarily basing this off of Billy Donovan’s departure and his statement he accepted the Bulls position based on their future and commitment to winning. That doesn’t mean Presti is ready to pull the plug. Rather, the reality is he simply didn’t offer Donovan a term (two years) the former Thunder coach wanted to sign.
The other reason everyone assumes the rebuild is on was based on Paul’s end of season message thanking Thunder fans. Again, that’s not a commitment to leaving but a player who called this one of his favorite teams and a city he enjoyed. It was a heartfelt message that was similar to sentiments posted by many of his peers.
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The difference, of course, is this expectation the Thunder are headed for the rebuild. But are they? Or will Presti navigate the next few years with an open mind to playing the balance between growing their youth while remaining competitive similar to what the Boston Celtics have done?
Even this NBA Finals is serving up an example of how a well-constructed team comprised of the right veterans and youth can excel such as the Miami Heat. Rookie Tyler Herro (yes -don’t get me started on how TI pined for his addition last summer) and sophomore Duncan Robison are playing pivotal roles. Big man Bam Adebayo is similar to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in that he’s become a cornerstone of his franchise.
Other up and coming franchises such as the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies are other examples of teams with youth at the core. Last year’s champs the Raptors utilized a similar strategy to the Celtics of developing their youth and mixing it with savvy vets.
Although Presti may trade Paul there is no urgency to make that happen, nor will the GM jettison the talented guard without a solid return on investment. With years of multiple draft picks in hand there is also no reason for the OKC Thunder to commit to tanking.
Paul’s answer to Van Gundy’s question aligns with this thinking and in truth, the only thing it definitively proves is he’d be happy to return.