In the aftermath of a season cloaked by Kevin Durant’s departure, the Thunder needed something big to keep star man Russell Westbrook happy and committed to the course. Trading good but not excellent Victor Oladipo and developing Domantas Sabonis for multiple time All Star Forward George got the league’s attention.
Pairing him with Anthony convinced Westbrook to sign a five year $205 million extension with the franchise; with 22 All Star appearances between the trio, OKC was back to the elite stage.
The team fell short of its expected third seed in the Western Conference regular season but placing fourth was two spots higher than it managed in the 2016-2017 season.
Utter disappointment happened in the postseason as the Thunder crashed out of the first round at the hands of fifth seed Utah Jazz.
Unlike OKC, Jazz had no All Star on its roster with Gordon Hayward in Boston and built its production on the strengths of rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell, defensive stud Rudy Gobert, the all round skills of Joe Ingles and sound tactical choices from Quinn Snyder.
Point Guard Ricky Rubio’s surprise surge in points while maintaining high assists numbers and intensity on defense was a bonus to Utah’s big series win over OKC.
So the season is over and multiple questions face the Thunder as Paul George’s situation holds the key to another successful offseason or an underwhelming one like 2016-2017’s. Many anticipate the former Indiana Pacers man will not pick up the final year of his contract and stay with the Thunder with a slew of suitors ready to sign him up.
However, it is not far fetched to believe Paul George will pick up the $20 million option and play another season with Westbrook and Co. For starters, the band is likely to remain same as Anthony is very likely to pick up the final $28 million left in what is his final big payday in the league.
Another year together is great for OKC as a season blending three primary offense creators takes a lot of work to get going particularly in the unforgiving Western Conference. The Thunder’s situation differs from Golden State Warriors’ where Durant easily settled in due to the team’s free flowing offense which has several players orchestrating the offense.
There is also the absence of Andre Roberson from the postseason series against Utah and a lot of regular season games due to injury. Roberson holds career averages of 4.6 points and four rebounds but his low statistics pale in comparison to his influence on the Thunder’s success. Roberson thrives on defense and stymies opposing Point Guards, Shooting Guards and Small Forwards consistently.
As of March 18 in the past regular season, Roberson, Westbrook, Steven Adams, George and Anthony posted a +14.8 per 100 possessions; after Roberson went down with an injury, OKC posted a mere +1.8 per 100 possessions. George could stick around for another season to see how a fit again Roberson could impact his chances of improving his production- Roberson takes major defensive assignments- and winning a title.
Off the court, salary space has limited the number of teams that can meet George’s financial demands. The likes of Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns among other shave ample salary to pay but none of them including Los Angeles Lakers have the roster to make the playoffs semifinals immediately. Philadelphia Sixers have salary room and a young contender who are competing in the second round of the playoffs.
However, the Sixers priority heading to the offseason is a shot creator as first year Guard Markelle Fultz develops in the league. Staying put for another season gives George the chance to sign with major contenders who are projected to have more money as contracts handed out in the bumper free agency period three seasons ago start to go off the books. Lakers for example will have enough money to sign George and say Jimmy Butler while keeping all of its promising pieces since Luol Deng’s horrible $18 million contract per season will be in the final year and can easily be bought out or spread over a five year period.
Back to the court, George had a terrible end to his first season in Oklahoma scoring just five points in OKC’s 91-96 season ending loss to Utah Jazz. Leaving would be a poor way to end his stay; getting back to Thunder camp to deal with unfinished business like LeBron James did on his return to Cleveland Cavaliers looks the way to go.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter