Echoes of Isaiah Thomas trade from Boston Celtics to Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving has yet to die down and with it, the ever complex conversation of loyalty. There have been many cases of players breaking fan and city hearts by skipping town the way LeBron James did in 2010, Kevin Durant did in 2016 and Gordon Hayward recently did in Utah.
On the other hand, team managers and administrators have committed their fair share of heartbreaking moments in players’ lives. Thomas’ trade from Boston came mere months after the headline trade package played for Celtics a day after losing his sister to a car accident.
For a player like Durant who has been the subject of constant abuse from Oklahoma City Thunder fans for moving to the “enemy” Golden State Warriors, it vindicated him aside the ring he won last season. Everything in the NBA is a business, and the players must act with a business mind with their careers be on the court and off it. Going forward, any talk of player loyalty will be zipped up by Isaiah’s trade for what Boston considers an upgrade.
In that regard, reigning MVP Russell Westbrook must be looking in the mirror and thinking of a move unconceivable some months ago. For the best player in the league last season, his unflinching loyalty to OKC might be waning; it sounds crazy but if that isn’t the case, then why is Westbrook hesitant to pen a five year extension with the Thunder.
It can’t be because of the money because unlike other potential free agents who stand to earn more by waiting till the close of the 2017-2018 season, Mr Triple Double stands to earn just about the same amount whether he signs now or next season as a free agent. $201 million for five years is reported to be the amount Westbrook will earn when he signs as a designated player with OKC. Signing for another team comes at a reduced fee since the league made such rules to keep players at teams that drafted them. Reasons behind Russell’s hesitancy is dumbfounding considering he is the unquestioned leader of a playoff team-something Irving yearned for some much he pushed for a move away from LeBron James which will cost him money when his contract is up- and has a superstar teammate which he didn’t have last season.
By nabbing Paul George from Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, the Thunder didn’t commit errors in landing a multiple All Star. George’s presence on the roster means Oklahoma’s projected starting lineup will look good on October 17. Westbrook starts at Point Guard with Andre Roberson at Shooting Guard and George as a Small Forward. Fellow new recruit Patrick Patterson’s availability is hard to tell due to injury but will definitely get the starting nod at Power Forward once fully recovered and will be joined by Steven Adams in the frontcourt. That is a top unit capable of hanging well with the big boys of the Western Conference; Golden State, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.
However, the second unit doesn’t project to be a top performer next season with the likes of Enes Kanter, Raymond Felton, Alex Abrines and Jerami Grant as the best options available to Billy Donovan. One reason for OKC’s first round exit at the hands of Houston Rockets was the over reliance on the MVP through the entire season. Beside Westbrook, OKC now has George but the super built trio listed above has multiple options to call on to wreck havoc. Depending on how the season ends, George could walk away from the team and so could Westbrook; should this happen Oklahoma will be without any star name to call on and would have to embrace a massive rebuild. However, that option isn’t so straight forward since George and Westbrook bring a lot to the table to prevent the Thunder from falling to the base of the standings.
Also, the duo’s presence limits the team’s chances of getting pieces for a rebuild; the solution is to trade Westbrook to Cleveland Cavaliers as reports on various tabloids suggest for an MVP ransom of Thomas, Crowder, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and the 2018 first round draft pick. George can be traded midseason same way Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando Magic to Toronto Raptors in his contract year. Getting George and Westbrook to work together only delays the inevitable decline Sam Presti is trying hard to avoid same way Chicago Bulls did by signing Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo to help Jimmy Butler but ultimately failed leading to a rebuild in the Windy City.
Can OKC make the conference semifinals? No. Does it have what it takes to have the next super team in the league? Yes and this is the option the team should take.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter