Any trade for Paul George would have been a huge gamble. Given how he telegraphed his intentions for his 2018 free-agency foray, he positioned himself as an expensive one-year rental. It’s why most would-be suitors refrained from making a pitch for him.
It’s why the Lakers, his preferred employers, stayed away; he looked headed to his hometown, anyway. And it’s why the few serious ones deemed him the last piece to a championship puzzle in the era of the dynastic Warriors. When Day One of legal player swaps became history, however, none of the usual suspects got him; instead, the Thunder wound up nabbing him in a certified shocker of a deal that the Pacers could have — and probably should have — rejected.
Indeed, the Thunder won big in the arrangement. First, they didn’t have to tear down their roster to claim George; all they coughed up in exchange were Victor Oladipo (a so-so beyond-the-arc shooter and iffy passer off the drive, significant flaws in today’s pace-and-space setting) and Domantas Sabonis (a low-first-round prospect behind in development). More importantly, they acquired the marquee name they need to burn rubber alongside newly minted Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook. For the immediate future, the development allows them to propel their progress post-Kevin Durant. In the longer term, it provides them with the ammunition they require to convince their resident star to stay.
Needless to say, the Thunder are angling to both get Westbrook to bite the supermax carrot and keep George in the fold. The hope is that the one-two punch will be as good on the court as it looks on paper. Their talents appear complementary; they may be equally hungry for the rock, but their skill sets underscore their potential for a higher ceiling together than separately. Sure, their numbers will be depressed, but so will their burden; the ideal has them welcoming the help they give to each other.
In any case, the Thunder have gone all in, and, if nothing else, they’ve laid the groundwork for an interesting season in transition. They’re crossing their fingers Westbrook realizes that one-man shows in a team sport aren’t sustainable. Likewise, they’re betting George gets to like their professional but cozy vibe enough to abandon plans to move to the Lakers. A humongous risk? Of course, albeit one with considerable upside, and one they simply had to take in the final analysis.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.