This NBA offseason may have been the most exciting offseason the NBA has ever had. However, the demise of the Oklahoma City Thunder was not supposed to be apart of the offseason drama. The Thunder are surprisingly now in full rebuild mode.
After Paul George requested a trade to the Clippers, to play along Kawhi Leonard, the rebuild in Oklahoma City began. Afterward, general manager Sam Presti traded the Thunder’s most loyal superstar Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.
Here is the official compensation in the Westbrook and Chris Paul trade:
Rockets announce the trade of Chris Paul, two first-round picks and "draft considerations (two pick swaps) for Russell Westbrook.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 17, 2019
Essentially the trade was swapping point guards for the Thunder and Rockets. Both the Chris Paul and Westbrook contracts are deemed some of the worse in the NBA. This is why it’s been reported Oklahoma City is planning on moving Paul again if they can find a suitor.
Although, what are the benefits of keeping Paul on the roster? Oklahoma City is a franchise not used to being bad, as the the Thunder have only missed the playoffs twice since moving to Oklahoma City.
If the Thunder retains Paul through the season, their talent will be enough to compete for the playoffs. Yet, will talent be enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference?
How the roster currently looks
Emphasis has been given to the picks the Thunder have acquired in their trades, but let’s look at the players who have joined the team. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari are now on the Thunder. Despite, not having any superstars, the Thunder still have a talented core.
A potential starting lineup for the Thunder next season: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, André Roberson, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams.
One clear strength the Thunder would have is their defense. Besides Gallinari, everyone in that starting lineup is a good to great defenders. Also, the Thunder have Nerlens Noel, Terrance Ferguson and Patrick Patterson coming off the bench. Not to mention, young talents like Hamidou Diallo and Darius Bazley in the rotation.
The only way the Thunder make the playoffs next year is staying with their current roster.
Is Chris Paul on the Decline?
There are two reasons why the Thunder are looking to move Paul. The team is in complete rebuild mode and doesn’t want Paul’s max contract on their salary. Secondly, many consider Paul to be on the decline, therefore he isn’t worth the max contract.
Personally, I peg Paul’s decline in production to him not having the ball in his hands. Paul is a ball dominant player who controls the entire offense. He couldn’t do that playing along James Harden, who likes to isolate.
Even in his first year playing along Harden, Paul averaged 18 points and 8 assists. It’s not wrong to presume Paul getting back to those averages, with a less ball dominant backcourt member in Gilgeous-Alexander.
Furthermore, Paul could help mentor Gilgeous-Alexander. This would be the first time Paul has ever played with young point guard with this much potential.
The Depth of Western Conference
It is well-known that the Western Conference is deeper than the Eastern Conference. It is no easy task to land even the eight seed in the west. If this Thunder team was in the Eastern Conference they would easily make the playoffs.
However, there are seven teams in the west who are clearly better than the Thunder now. Those teams include the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Nuggets, Jazz and Rockets. That leaves one spot up for grabs for the remaining teams in the west.
The teams most likely to be fighting for that eight seed with the Thunder are the Kings, Mavericks, Pelicans and Spurs. Nonetheless, I would select either the Kings or Spurs to make the playoffs over the Thunder. Based on the fact they will have better team chemistry since majority of their team is returning from last season.
Under the premise that Paul is not dealt this season the Thunder will be in playoff contention all year. Yet, chemistry and a lack of star power will derail them from making the playoffs.