Yesterday’s blockbuster deal for Paul George sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. It was a message heard loud and clear:
Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder were not going to concede to the teams ahead of them or accept their place in the hierarchy of the league.
“Oklahoma City is a small market, no one wants to go there.”
“With the loss of Kevin Durant, the Thunder will begin to slip into obscurity.”
You have heard those statements over the past 12 months. In the wake of the titanic hole left by Durant’s almost-heretical departure, Oklahoma City was cast down in the Western Conference. From potential title contender for the next few seasons to a middle-of-the-pack franchise with no real aspirations of raising banners.
Thankfully for Presti and the Thunder, they were left with a guy by the name of Russell Westbrook.
The 2016-17 reigning MVP led the charge to pull the Thunder from out of the depths of separation anxiety caused by their former star bolting for Oakland. Westbrook’s league tour of destruction made it exciting to rock Thunder blue again. Now, the fan base would run through a wall for him.
Oklahoma City, while ecstatic about Westbrook’s historic year and playoff appearance, do not accept playing second fiddle to the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs or even the gods on Mt. Olympus themselves, the Golden State Warriors.
That is the situation George is walking into — an environment ready to not only take the next step, but crash the party. The former Indiana Pacer makes his glorious appearance in the holy war against Durant and the Warriors.
Make no mistake, Oklahoma City wants Golden State.
At this point, the Warriors are still the class of the league by one of the widest margins in memory. Adding a player — even one of the caliber of George — does not guarantee a competitive series against the defending champions who lost one game in their postseason run. The door, however, has been opened.
There is no question that Oklahoma City’s time with George could be limited. The All-Star wing has made it clear to his former employer that he intends to return home to Southern California and play for the Los Angeles Lakers when his contract is up next season. Presti however won’t accept that.
There are still moves to be made according to ESPN‘s Royce Young.
Whatever happens over the next few hours and days, the Thunder have substantially improved their roster. George brings that second option that Westbrook desperately needed. A player with the ability to take over games on any given night and keep opposing defenses up at night.
The Thunder still have a way to go before you can boast a potential competitive series against the Warriors, Spurs or even the Rockets. The process has received a shot in the arm with the arrival of George.
The optimism to compete is no longer a “few years down the road” discussion. If Oklahoma City is going to become a player in the Western Conference it starts with Westbrook.
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