Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari will lead OKC to the playoffs

NBA Houston Rockets Chris Paul (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
NBA Houston Rockets Chris Paul (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Assuming no other big move is coming, Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari can lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs in 2019-20

"“Reposition, replenish and then ultimately rebuild our team.”"

These are the words that Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti used to describe the Thunder’s plans going forward. After an unplanned explosion of the team, Presti and the organization’s original plans going into the season were spoiled. They intended to ‘run it back’ with Paul George and Russell Westbrook. However, it took one trade request to change everything.

In a matter of a week, the Thunder parted ways with the six-time All-Star forward Paul George and their franchise player, Russell Westbrook. Conveniently, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets provided the Thunder with some relief in great players and a load of future draft capital.

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The two best players from those deals are Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari. Of course I didn’t forget Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is a great, young player with a very high ceiling. However, there’s something unique about Paul and Gallinari: they both have something to prove.

Let’s start with Chris Paul. Last Summer, he signed a four-year $160 million deal with Houston. The nine-time All-Star came off a great season averaging 18.6 points, 7.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. Paul helped Houston attain the top seed in the West with 65 wins. He and Harden led the team to a 3-2 series lead over the Golden State Warriors.

However, a nagging hamstring injury held Paul out the final two games of the series fueling the Warriors to their fourth consecutive Finals appearance. General Manager Daryl Morey was determined to keep Paul and make another push at the Warriors. Within hours of Free Agency, Paul and the Rockets agreed to this egregious four-year max-deal.

Things, however, just did not click this time around. Chris Paul’s numbers dropped and so did the team’s record. The Rockets got their rematch with Golden State in the playoffs only to lose in just six games.

Rumblings quickly emerged following their second-round exit about James Harden and Chris Paul’s bad relationship. A trade request seemed imminent from Paul’s end, but Morey reassured the media that there was no trade request.

About three weeks later, Paul found himself and some picks being traded to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook. No one will really know exactly why Houston and Paul split, but one can speculate over it: Was it Harden? Was it their relationship? or Did Houston want a change of scenery?.

Here we are. Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City. After days of media speculation about another potential Chris Paul trade, it seems like he’s here to stay in OKC…for the mean time. However, if he is to be traded later, his trade value almost seems diminished. Injuries, concerns about aging, and of course that massive contract feed Paul’s critics.

Houston had to pair two first-rounders and two draft swaps to move Paul. Yet, Chris Paul is still a top-15 point guard, still has amazing ball-handling skills, and is still a future Hall-of-Famer. What is wrong with Chris Paul? It’s an interesting topic considering Paul is still loaded with talent and skill. He will have a lot to prove to in this upcoming season.

Paul will have to play up to the noise proving he’s a top-tier point guard, worth his max-deal, a good teammate that elevates those around him, and worth trading for. Paul will be playing this season not just to win games, but now to prove his worth to the entire league.

Let’s shift to Danilo Gallinari for a minute. Gallo have been in the league 11 years, but has never been an All-Star. However, that doesn’t count out the positive contributions he’s made to his previous teams: the New York Knicks, the Denver Nuggets, and recently the Los Angeles Clippers. He has averaged around 16 points in his career and participated in six postseasons.

Additionally, this past season, he averaged multiple career highs including 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per gagme on 46 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Gallinari put together an impressive season that mirrored his team’s surprisingly impressive season. He helped the Clippers make the playoffs and even steal two games away from the Warriors.

Gallinari has a lot of experience and skill that could help any contender win. Going into the final year of his deal, he will be looking to play for free agency next summer. Considering the shallowness of next summer’s class, Gallo may find himself securing a large contract. If he plays well this season, he will find himself in a good market with some really good teams. However, he must play this season out and continue to excel as a top shooting forward and offensive threat.

Simultaneously, Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari will play together this season with huge chips on their shoulders. They are playing for much more than just a couple of wins with the Thunder, but instead be playing to prove their worth to the league.

These two veteran players will join to lead a cast of young and talented players that include Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven AdamsDennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson, Darius ‘the Intern’ Bazley, Nerlens Noel, Hamidou Diallo, and Andre Roberson. From the outside, this may look like a young, scrappy, disorganized team, but if you factor in a Chris Paul and Danlio Gallinari that are playing at a very high level, then you are getting a very dangerous team.

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It may take some time for the noise to settle down and for the team to gel, but there is some serious potential on this roster. No one is saying championship contender, but the playoffs are a real possibility. And if these guys play up to their potential, they may even become a threat to upset contenders.