The Thunder lost to the Nets on Thursday, which prompted the same uproar in social media circles an OKC loss always does. "Blow it up!" "Time to trade Paul George!" "This team is a disaster!"
And as always, I am here to remind you that Oklahoma City's objective was not to be a contender on December 8. That the Thunder remain eighth in net rating. That going into the Brooklyn game, they were on a three-game win streak. That if the two coin-flip games vs. the Wolves had gone their way, they'd be over .500. That their defensive is now second-best in the league. And that you essentially have to decide if Russell Westbrook is now just a bad player given his shooting and overall play. I, for one, do not believe Westbrook is a bad player now, so I will continue to hold the fort on "this is gonna turn around for OKC."
But it's possible it doesn't. Sometimes, in a season, a narrative overwhelms the factual evidence like waves crashing over the barriers. Maybe that's what happens here, everyone gets so unhappy they can't stand it, and GM Sam Presti is really facing a crisis at the trade deadline. Everyone knows George is a free agent this summer and everyone knows the money is on him going to the Lakers. So they should just get ahead of it and either deal George to the Lakers or trade him as a rental to Cleveland so they don't lose him for nothing, right?
Here's what you have to weigh. Let's say the Thunder are still right about here, two games under .500 on February 1. Their options are:
- Trade George to the Lakers, who will not include a pick and most likely will not include Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson, so you're getting flotsam since they know he could/will come there in free agency.
- Trade George to the Cavaliers or another contending team on what will be billed as a two-month rental for, again, flotsam.
- Hold onto George, and risk losing him for nothing ... but that also comes with the possibility of things turning around, going on a run, and George re-signing.
You can say "well, the odds of that are low" because that's how it looks now. But think of the wide range of outcomes here.
- They crash and burn, George and Carmelo Anthony leave, you start over with Westbrook-Adams and cap space
- They do fairly well, but not good enough, PG and Melo leave, or Melo stays, and you start again with Westbrook-Melo-Adams and cap space
- They get it together, become the team they wanted to be by April, snag a top-four seed, make a run, and PG and Melo stay
Don't those outcomes all seem better than "Iman Shumpert and a late first you won't wind up using" or "Stanley Johnson and Ellenson" or "Luol Deng and Zubac?"
Yes, losing PG for nothing after letting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis go when they're thriving in Indiana hurts, just like letting James Harden go for a combo package that should have been better hurt. But keeping your cap space open next to your MVP is a good deal no matter what, and in the end, OKC will probably be smart enough to understand that it was a good idea that didn't work. Them's the breaks.
Meanwhile, if it does work out? You get to shove it in everyone's face that you stuck with it. The promise of that scenario alone should give Presti pause.
Whenever anything doesn't work immediately in the NBA, we start talking about "blowing it up." The reality is that if this doesn't work out for the Thunder, they can revamp and reload without having to do anything. They re-signed Westbrook. That's all they needed to make sure they have options to contend in the future. They can afford to give this thing a full season to sink or swim on its own.