AND just like that, OKC has crash landed. After a preseason filled with so much promise, they were knocked out of the postseason by the form Utah Jazz. Not only is their immediate future bleak, but their future is being questioned now as well, as they continue to flounder in a post-Durant world. They’ve reached the crossroads with both paths looking sketchy. So where to for Russell and Co?
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IT seems like a lifetime ago that Paul George touched down in OKC. His arrival along with the trade that landed Melo saw the Thunder form a new trio of stars in Oklahoma. I lauded Sam Presti for acquiring the two All-Star’s in the offseason, however, things didn’t go exactly to plan. Instead of launching to great heights like I and countless others thought they would, OKC was eliminated in the first-round and are now facing a crucial offseason.
THE writing was on the wall for the Thunder to fall short in the postseason. Their play fluctuated throughout the entire year at times looking like world beaters and then looking like garbage the very next night. I flagged their troubles 27 games in and that was the narrative of their season. They lost Andre Roberson to a knee injury after 49, but alarm bells were ringing well and truly before that.
MELO flat out failed to adapt as the third option we thought he could be. After shooting a career-low 40.4% from the field in the regular season, his output declined in the playoffs. He averaged just 11.9 points a game hitting 21.4% of his 3-point attempts, including 19.0% in catch and shoot situations. It’s a shame that he has had a quick decline and his $27.9 million dollar player option probably means he’ll be back next year.
HIS lofty contract doesn’t bode well for the Thunder’s chances at contending next year although Anthony might thrive in a No. 2 role. That role would become available if Paul George packed his bags for LA. There is no immediate word about the future of the 5x All-Star although it is widely believed that his tenure in Oklahoma is up. He could very well opt to stay with Westbrook and go at it again, but if he does shift to the Lakers or Clippers he has a chance to be ‘the man’ for his hometown.
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HE performed admirably on offense against Utah averaging 24.7 points a game, even though his shooting was a little suspect. Surely George is wondering just what the ceiling is for this team and instead of staying he might be better off setting up shop with a young core in Los Angeles. Is he good enough to be ‘the man’? No one knows, but we would find out if he left. Westbrook’s own credentials will once again be questioned after a stereotypical series, leading all players in attempted shots, assists and turnovers.
THE 2016-17 MVP only managed to hit 39.8% of his 161 shots, which proved to be a killer for the Thunder. You know what you sign up for when you own Westbrook though, you’re going to have the 5-17 shooting nights followed up by a 45 point, 15 assist, seven rebound game (that includes 33 points in the second half). Question his aggressive demeanour and selfishness all you want he is still an amazing player capable of things that only very few others can do.
THAT being said he might not be good enough to carry a team to the promised land as the primary guy, which is alarming for OKC. They are tied to him for the immediate future and if George really does flee in the offseason they could be screwed. Steven Adams made himself a force to be reckoned with this year and players like Jerami Grant, Corey Brewer and Raymond Felton are probably worth keeping around. Falling to the pesky Jazz though leaves the Thunder in a tough position. They are hamstrung by Paul George’s decision and to be honest regardless of which way he sways things aren’t looking promising.
IF he stays you will wonder if he and Westbrook can co-exist with Melo still failing on the wings. Or the alternative, he leaves and Anthony can’t score in a bigger role, leaving Westbrook to go on another individual campaign. There is a third option. Maybe, just maybe it’s time to blow things wide open and find a new home for Russ and bottom out. The price tag would be high, but moving him for a young superstar might just be the best move. Regardless of their choice, they face a lot more uncertainty than we expected.
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