Sometimes it is best to burn it all down.
That is what the Oklahoma City Thunder has done recently, trading Paul George and Jerami Grant to the Clippers and Nuggets, respectively.
On paper, getting rid of the two, especially George, hurts on paper for Thunder fans. Despite that, it is what is best for the franchise. In fact, it seems that Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City front office are returning to a strategy that brought them to prominence in the NBA.
Before the times of acquiring Paul George or even Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder built its squad primarily through the draft. At one point, Oklahoma City drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in three consecutive years, building a young nucleus that almost delivered an NBA championship.
With the acquisition of four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two pick swap options in the George trade, along with another first-round pick in the Grant trade, the Thunder have the resources to make a return to building from the ground up work.
To add to this, there is already a solid core in place to pair with future draft picks. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid guard who was acquired from the Clippers and showed well in his rookie season. Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel all have contributed quality minutes and will be back. There is still plenty of talent on the Thunder’s roster, but it’s a matter of the mindset changing in Bricktown to understanding that this team will be better off missing the playoffs for a few years and rebuilding.
I have failed to mention Westbrook being a part of this group because I don’t see him being back in an Oklahoma City jersey this fall. He doesn’t fit with the identity of the new-look Thunder, and many reports suggest he is looking for moves elsewhere.
Similar to losing George, a Westbrook-less Thunder team will be hard for some fans, but it is for the best. It is like breaking up with that longtime girlfriend who was fun to be around but also toxic, and by toxic I mean she would take too many bad shots in critical times of games. That might be a bad comparison, but you know what I mean.
Another side effect of embracing a draft-centric strategy is pseudo-tanking. Let’s face it, the Thunder won’t be winning a whole lot in the next few years. In fact, a playoff appearance might hurt the overall rebuild and vision. Also, a playoff appearance would likely mean losing in the first round, which is no better than the teams with George and Westbrook have done the past couple years.
To be a sane Thunder fan for the next few years, accept what Philadelphia 76ers fans did several years ago, which has led to that franchise’s recent success. The process is here, whether you like it or not. It could be a disaster, or it could give the Presti regime a breath of fresh air.
Time will tell, but in the meantime, watch the flames burn down the recent past of mediocrity in favor of a hopeful future in Oklahoma City through the draft.
Sam Henderson is a contributor for The Stillwater News Press and is going into his junior year at Oklahoma State University.