Oklahoma City Thunder outlook: Short-term vs. long-term

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06: Paul George /

Did trading for Paul George mortgage the future for the Oklahoma City Thunder? Things could go very poorly for the Thunder in the summer of 2018

The Oklahoma City Thunder had a good offseason; they most definitely got better. OKC made a huge splash when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Paul George. One of the best two-way players in the league, George gives Russell Westbrook the running mate he needed to make the Thunder a very good team.

Losing Kevin Durant last summer was devastating for the franchise, and bringing in George helps take the sting off a bit.

George should be able to provide a lot of the same things Durant did for the Thunder. He’s a long, versatile defender that can hound even the best offensive weapons in the league. Offensively, he’s capable of being a go-to guy that can create his own shot and drain it from distance. He’s also a pretty underrated facilitator, just as Durant was prior to his first season with Golden State.

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George wasn’t the only significant acquisition OKC made. The team signed free agent forward Patrick Patterson to a bargain deal, giving the team a stretch four to help space the floor for Westbrook. Patterson is one of the more underrated role players in the league, and he’ll fill a void at power forward that’s been evident since the departure of Serge Ibaka.

The addition of Raymond Felton can’t be overlooked either. The Thunder have not had much in the way of reliability behind Westbrook at the point for years. Felton may take some flak for being out of shape from time to time, but he’s a stable option as a backup PG. Bringing back Andre Roberson was a nice move as well.

This is all good news, right? Well, in the short-term it most certainly is, but there are no guarantees after this season. Both George and Westbrook will be able to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2018, and it is widely believed around the league that PG13 wants to go home and join the Lakers.

If George bolts for the west coast, Westbrook will be left with a roster that looks very similar to that of the 2016-17 season. While that roster helped him average a triple-double and win the MVP, I think even Russ knows that it’s not a winning brand of basketball.

Could anyone really blame him if he left OKC for a better situation? He’ll be 29 by that time.

Should both George and Westbrook leave next summer, it would leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in a terrible position. They’d have Steven Adams and little else that would factor into a rebuild. The Thunder could switch to tank mode, but they’d have a long way go in creating a competitive roster again.

While the Thunder should be very competitive in 2017-18, they don’t appear to have a realistic shot at challenging the Warriors at full health. In fact, it’s no certainty that OKC can even crack the Top 4 in an extremely competitive Western Conference.

A lot of people loved the Paul George trade for the Thunder, but would a one-year rental really be worth it? Sure, Oladipo’s contract doesn’t look great after his performance last season, but he’s still a young player with upside, precisely the kind of asset that would be valuable in the event of a rebuild. Sabonis would be a decent piece to have as well.

So, the Thunder took a gamble in trading for George, something that we may see more of as the dominance of Golden State changes how teams assess risk. If OKC can convince George and Westbrook to stay long-term, it will be well worth the risk.

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However, come this time next season, the Oklahoma City Thunder could also be looking at one of the barest rosters in the association, and right now that feels more likely than both George and Westbrook staying put.