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Where do the Thunder go from Here?
Another year, another disappointing season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. After get bounced again in the third round, GM Sam Presti faces a tough choice this off season. Where do the Thunder go from Here? They went from having one of the youngest teams in the NBA Finals to having three of their four core players from that run not on the team anymore. It’s always tough when a franchise has to look themselves in the mirror and be brutally honest, but it’s somehow worse for Oklahoma City. They’ve tried a new coach, bringing in other stars, but they just couldn’t get the timing right. To make matters work, the Thunder are very limited on assets and cap space. But this is how really good GM’s make their money, making the most out of a tough situation. I’m laying out a few different moves that I think Sam Presti should consider this summer to try and improve the Thunder’s situation.
- Build a Time Machine and go back to before they traded James Harden
Out of all the options I’m going to list, this is honestly the easiest option. I imagine Sam Presti going back in time like Hermione Granger and Harry Potter in Prisoner of Azkaban. You can’t let anyone know you’re there, but just get James Harden that offer sheet. I would love to see Game of Zones do this skit, just have Presti and another front office staff member go back in time and have to sneak around the Thunder facilities trying not to get caught. If you go back and just give Harden the deal he wanted (which was only a couple million more than what the Thunder offered anyway) they would have kept him around for an addition four years. They would essentially be the Warriors before the Warriors. Sure, they may not win a title, but they would be closer than where they are now. To Presti’s credit, there was no way anyone could know that James Harden would become who he is today.
- Fire Billy Donovan
This is the first move for a lot of teams after a disappointing streak. Change the coach, try a new system, and just get some new blood in the positions of power. I actually wouldn’t do this if I was Oklahoma City. I think Donovan has done a pretty good job, he has a 199-129 record since becoming the head coach in 2015. He did a pretty good job of coaching Durant and Westbrook together, and then just Westbrook after Durant bolted for the Bay Area. I give credit to him because it’s not exactly easy coaching Russell Westbrook. If you want to fault Donovan, just look at his 15-19 record in the playoffs. It’s not great, losing to Utah last season.
The question is, if you do fire Donovan, who do you get as a replacement? I could see the Thunder talking to basically who everyone else is talking to, Ty Lue, Juwan Howard, and Monty Williams. If you think any of these guys move the needle, then you should make the change, but if not, I would keep Donovan around for at least one more year.
- Trade Steven Adams
Look, I love Adams, he’s one of the best centers in the league, and I think a lot of teams could use him. It would also clear much needed cap space for a team that desperately needs it. I would try and turn Adams into more bench depth and shooting, which they need more than a defensive minded center. I would love to see them go super small and play (dude) at center. He’s only 6’9”, but I would love to see him play center maybe 15 minutes a game just to give the Thunder an extra look. The Thunder would still be in excellent shape with George and Westbrook leading the team, plus with extra roles players they wouldn’t have so much of a burden to score and be the primary playmakers.
- Trade Paul George
You want to talk about cold, how about trading a guy that chose to resign with you and stay in OKC over going to the LA Lakers and then trade that guy a year later. That’s some Danny Ainge level coldness right there. I think you have to think about trading George if you are Oklahoma City. This team has proven for two years in a row that they can’t get past the first round, and they don’t have any cap room or high lottery picks to get better. You can fetch a lot for Paul George, and the team would still be competitive if you just have Westbrook and Adams with a bunch or role players. If you’re lucky, you can come out with a situation Like Toronto, be really good right now, and still have that next generation of good players coming off the bench to take the stars place when they get older or are not on the team anymore.
- Trade Russell Westbrook
Listen, when you think about the Thunder, you think about Westbrook, not Durant, not James Harden, Russell freaking Westbrook. Why is that? Because he stayed, he’s the last man standing. He stayed when Durant left, and took the team as far as he could carry them. But that’s the issue with Russ, how far HE can carry the Thunder, which we’ve seen is to get a bunch of triple doubles and exit in the first round of the playoffs. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that, you know who would love to have a superstar on their roster that wins an MVP and makes it to the playoffs everywhere? Charlotte, Phoenix, New York, and Memphis. You get the picture? None of these things are bad, it’s just if you want to win championships, you need more than that. I never thought the Raptors would trade Demar Derozan, now look, they get Kawhi (for now) and they look like the top threat in the East. I’m not saying that will happen with Oklahoma City, but I think the Raptors got rewarded for looking at their situation and saying what we have is really good, but we need to be great.