It’s the end of an era in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder have traded Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and a couple of draft picks.
It’s hard to envision Westbrook wearing another uniform, but the time had clearly come for the two sides to part ways as OKC looks to being building toward another future.
So, what exactly does the Westbrook trade mean for the Thunder going forward?
Well, after acquiring two first-round picks from the Rockets in the deal, Oklahoma City has now picked up eight first-rounders this summer, piling up five in the trade that sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers and another one in a deal that moved Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets.
Not only that, but the Thunder have the right to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.
Now, a lot of these picks are pretty far down the line, but that’s okay; it just gives Oklahoma City the chance to rebuild over an extended period of time.
That’s the thing with the Thunder. This is not going to be a quick rebuild. Oklahoma City does not have the luxury of other teams in the league that can lure free agents. OKC is an incredibly small market, and free agents simply do not want to sign there.
Can you think of one big-name free agent the Thunder have lured since becoming a franchise?
Basically, Sam Presti is going to have to knock it out of the park on a lot of these picks, and the good news is that drafting is his specialty. While Presti certainly has his shortcomings as a general manager, he is one of the best drafters in the league, and he can absolutely build a formidable team from all of those picks moving forward.
Will Presti hit the jackpot again like he did with Kevin Durant, Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka? It remains to be seen, and we also have to keep in mind that these picks are all dependent on the success (or hopeful lack thereof from the Thunder’s perspective) of other teams.
That being said, Oklahoma City is going to be pretty terrible itself over the next couple of years, so it should be able to land some high picks all on its own.
Of course, it stinks that the Thunder were not able to turn all of that brilliant drafting into anything other than one finals appearance way back in 2012. To be fair, injuries played a role, but Presti’s shaky trading and questionable free-agent decisions also prevented OKC from ever reaching its true potential.
So, you have to wonder if the Thunder will ever be in that good of a position again, because, in case you haven’t noticed, it is really, really hard to win titles in the NBA.
Overall, you can’t help but feel sorry for the Thunder, as it is becoming more and more difficult for small-market franchises to win in the NBA with stars teaming up in big cities becoming more and more frequent.
But with an almost uncountable stash of draft picks, Presti has a pretty golden opportunity in front of him to begin building another contender, and if he can somehow rid the team of Paul’s salary in the process, the outlook would look even grander.