In a stunning move that came out of absolutely nowhere, the Oklahoma City Thunder have traded for Paul George, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. For weeks, we’ve known that George’s time in Indiana was drawing to a close, but no one even knew the Thunder were on the market for a player like that.
In the trade, George will go to Oklahoma City while Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis will head to Indiana. All along, the Pacers craved young talent, and Sabonis fits that build. Still, it’s shocking that Indiana pulled the trigger so soon and to a team that nobody had on their radar.
What this trade does is shake up the landscape of the entire free agency picture. Boston wanted to trade for George if they signed Gordon Hayward, while the Cleveland Cavaliers still thought they might have a chance at him through a third team like Denver. The Wizards had been rumored for George as well, possibly dangling a young piece like Otto Porter Jr., and while Houston probably had the least to offer, it was reported that they also wanted to deal for the beleaguered star in Indiana.
Instead, Oklahoma City struck first — hours before free agency officially begins — and have George on a one-year deal to pair with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. For Westbrook, who only has one year left on his contract, it’s an all-out gamble by Thunder general manager Sam Presti and his front office. If they lose Westbrook, they’re at least going down with the ship.
What are the Thunder getting in George?
George is a modern star, a two-way player who can lock down your best perimeter player while playing on or off the ball offensively. After a season and playoff series where the Thunder relied single-handedly on Westbrook, George immediately provides a reliable and consistent second option.
Last season, George averaged a career-high 23.7 points on 46-percent shooting with 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game — and it was arguably a down year (especially defensively). George can do that in Oklahoma City this season, and he can maybe even do more.
What about George’s impending free agency?
This is the biggest question. George is a free agent in 2018 and his availability on the market is because he told the Pacers that he wouldn’t be re-signing with them. In fact, reports indicate that George prefers to sign with the Lakers then, but it seemed clear that he could change his mind in the right basketball scenario,
Boston might have been that scenario. Cleveland, if LeBron James stayed, would have been that scenario. Is Oklahoma City? It’s a small market town, almost the exact opposite of the glitz and glamour that the city of Los Angeles provides. He would be paired with Westbrook, but even with his arrival it still seems like the Thunder are trailing three teams in the Western Conference — Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
This is an enormous gamble. But if that’s the only chance the Thunder had to keep Westbrook, especially at a relatively small price, then it must be worth it.
What problems does George solve?
George immediately solves so much that ailed Oklahoma City last year. The Thunder didn’t have reliable shooting around Westbrook? George shot 42 percent on more than four catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game. The Thunder players who could shoot were terrible defenders? George is a two-way player who will average 36 minutes per night. The Thunder didn’t have anyone who could take the offensive load off Westbrook? George can create his own shot on three different levels.
The Thunder lost Oladipo, but George is a massively improved version of him. And while Sabonis is a nice prospect, Oklahoma City will be fine without him. George is absolutely worth that price.