A lot of big trades, signings and other acquisitions have taken place this summer. There are a few notable open ended situations lingering out there, including Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony. However, we are far along in the offseason that it can be said with reasonable certainty which team had the best overall offseason. Despite some strong competition, the honor this year has to go to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Everything starts with the trade for Paul George. Yes, George could leave after this season in free agency. Yes, George’s camp has made it clear he has his eyes set on Los Angeles. Guess what? Considering what the Thunder had to give up to acquire George, it almost doesn’t even matter.
Let’s revisit the deal that landed George in Oklahoma City. The Indiana Pacers agreed to send George to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo is a talented player who can do a little bit of everything on offense and is, unfortunately, inconsistent on defense.
Oladipo is still just 25 years old and still has room to become the impact two-way player so many envisioned when he was selected second overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. However, Oladipo is set to make $21,000,000 annually through the 2020-21 season. That’s a lot of money for a player that is statistically trending in the wrong direction (though a big part of that had to do with playing alongside the ball-dominant Russell Westbrook), and doesn’t put full effort into both ends of the court. It’s also notable that the Thunder in fact save money in this deal, which is an underrated part of this lopsided deal. In moving Oladipo’s salary, the Thunder will be well-positioned in terms of cap flexibility should Westbrook decline the Thunder’s extension offer and George opts to take his talents to L.A. after this upcoming season. In effect, the Thunder gave up a young and talented player whose inconsistent defense and annual salary arguably makes him a negative asset.
Meanwhile, Sabonis is an intriguing prospect who progressively looked overmatched as he went further into his rookie season. This isn’t a major concern considering how even some of the best players in the league struggled significantly in their respective rookie seasons. In 20.1 minutes per game over 81 regular season contests, Sabonis averaged 5.9 points, one assists, 3.6 rebounds and 0.4 blocks, while shooting 39.9 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent from three-point range. Sabonis may have not had a great rookie season, but the talent is there and it’s not hard to understand why the Pacers were interested in trading for him.
Notably, the Thunder did not have to surrender any draft picks or other assets outside of Oladipo and Sabonis to land George. That’s disappointing in a vacuum but is made even worse when we consider that other teams, including the Boston Celtics, had offered trade package with a wide range of talented veterans and draft picks, as well as the fact that there was no major urgency in making this particular deal with the Thunder. The point is, in a trade environment where the Thunder had less to offer than other teams and no hard deadlines that would force Indiana to take the deal or lose it forever, they walked away with the prize without breaking the bank, which should be commended.
Like the Minnesota Timberwolves, who landed Jimmy Butler for a similarly lopsided trade, the Thunder nailed their major transaction this offseason. Unlike the Timberwolves, the Thunder have also nailed all of the smaller matters they needed to take care of.
The Thunder needed a starting caliber power forward who could stretch the floor, especially after trading away Sabonis. The rest of the league apparently didn’t get the memo that states Patrick Patterson is an underrated power forward who can stretch the floor and is a versatile defender. The Thunder signed Patterson to a three-year, $16.3 million deal, which is well below what other power forwards like Taj Gibson received this summer. Patterson and George add a lot of defensive versatility to a team that has Steven Adams at center and is bringing back defensive ace Andre Roberson. This team is going to be a defensive force and Patterson will likely play a big part in that.
Oklahoma City also addressed a major weakness by signing Raymond Felton to a one-year, $2.3 million contract. Felton isn’t a starting-caliber point guard but is more than adequate as a back up and is a nice value on this contract. The Thunder also added a nice prospect in Terrance Ferguson, selecting him with the 21st pick in this year’s draft. Ferguson is an athletic and talented wing-prospect who could develop into an impact player on both ends of the court. Ferguson skipped college to play professionally for the Adelaide 36ers of Australia’s National Basketball League and failed to put up major numbers. However, his combination of shooting, skill, length and athleticism makes him a nice long term addition to a Thunder team that may be rebuilding after this upcoming season, depending on what George and Westbrook decide to do.
The trade for George was a grand slam regardless of the fact that there’s a real risk that he ends up leaving after this season. If the season goes well and he and Westbrook thrive together, the Thunder could lock both players up to long term deals. If George and Westbrook decide to move on, the Thunder will have plenty of cap space to acquire assets, along with some young players to rebuild around. Considering the lack of overall flexibility and tools the Thunder had to work with entering the offseason, it’s incredible how much they were able to achieve. Other teams made significant progress this offseason as well, but no other team did quite as much as Oklahoma City.
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