Something big and bad is heading to Oklahoma City and no, it is not a tornado as has become synonymous with the city in recent years. There is an unshakable feeling that refuses to go away about the fact that we could just be looking at the NBA’s next franchise to take over the tanking approach bat from Philadelphia Sixers, Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns.
It seems unimaginable at this time where Oklahoma City’s premier basketball franchise has reloaded heavily to take on the immense challenge in the Western Conference; Life after Kevin Durant is really looking up. By trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to join forces with Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have created its Big 3 hierarchy with ample support from top defensive Shooting Guard Andre Roberson and bone crushing Center Steven Adams.
For a team that had 2017 MVP Westbrook as the sole elite player in its starting lineup, getting two multiple All Star players in the offseason is a great scoop. In his tenure as General Manager, the knock on Sam Presti has been his inability to give his star players enough support to go the distance talent rich teams he has supervised ought to go and achieve.
Despite boasting a fantastic record of drafting future Hall of Famers in James Harden, Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, Presti’s teams have lacked critical pieces to get OKC over the line. The narrative is set to change with the addition of George, who joined in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, and Anthony, who joined in exchange for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott and a future draft pick.
Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey rightly called it early in the trade season opining the league is now a “Weapons Race” since contending teams are in serious battle to get their hands on the best talents on the market.
The reason behind the mad dash for talent is quite simple; money keeps pouring into the league and as Executives and Players get richer deals, Owners are demanding more from them. So it is less surprising to have Houston chase Anthony despite landing the NBA’s best Point Guard Chris Paul and solid contributors PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. While that deal never materialized, the intention was clear for the Rockets as it pursues perfection to beat reigning champions Golden State Warriors. However, by placing all his eggs in a basket, Presti has mortgaged the future of the team on an impressive season the next campaign. Should the combination fail to hit the high mark promised, OKC will be staring into a dark steep hole of laughable rosters, heavy losses and losing streaks in the near future. By dealing the team’s young players for ready to contribute talents in George and Anthony, the Thunder asset collection to build on for the next years are all but gone.
There is very little left for the next title run to be feasible in Oklahoma City and it begins with the second unit.
As things stand, OKC’s bench is likely to have Alex Abrines, Isaiah Canaan, Semaj Christon, Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton, Patrick Patterson and Kyle Singler with first year players Terrance Ferguson and Dakari Johnson filling out the remaining spots. This collection of players isn’t going anywhere ahead of Houston, San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers to an extent and definitely not Golden State Warriors. Players on the team’s bench are either inexperienced or don’t make the grade for top NBA players. That means the trio will have do a lot of heavy lifting to get deep in the postseason where it all boils down to since there is a sharp drop in quality behind them. Another sticking point is the contract situation George and Anthony are in which will assuredly affect the team should both players look elsewhere.
Anthony has one year remaining on his contract before the player option is up for activation after this season. Former Indiana Pacers man George is playing his final contract year before he is eligible for a new one with any team of his choice. To make matters worse, Westbrook is still hesitating on signing an extension which will keep him in the city beyond this season. Signs point to another failed Big 3 experiment like Chicago Bulls version with Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler as neither OKC’s top talent is yet to warm up to the idea of playing second or even third fiddle on a team. George had a fit with CJ Miles for taking a last second shot in last year’s playoffs after passing up an outlet to him while Carmelo is the closest ball hog to the retired Kobe Bryant.
In times past, Westbrook has been labeled the reason behind Durant’s departure as his head strong personality and play can irritate even Pope Francis I. The Thunder’s slogan should be “All In” as it was for 2016 Champions Cleveland Cavaliers because in the event, the team’s top personalities don’t hit it off, nothing will be left behind to salvage a failed situation.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter