The Oklahoma City Thunder did as well as could have been expected last season in the franchise’s first year without Kevin Durant. Led by Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award, the Thunder made it back to the playoffs and lost in the first round to the Houston Rockets.
Still, there was a feeling in Oklahoma City after the season that, with Westbrook’s potential free agency looming a year from now, General Manager Sam Presti would have to do something. The question was, according to Brett Dawson, Thunder beat writer for The Oklahoman, did they have the pieces to make a big enough splash?
“I expected them to try to do something,” Dawson says on the latest episode of “Posting Up,” The Washington Post’s NBA podcast. “I think, like a lot of people, I looked at the roster and said, ‘I don’t know what the move is. I don’t know what they can move to get something really big in return.’
“[But] the thing I’ve learned in a year covering Sam Presti is you don’t see these things coming.”
No one — including Dawson — saw the events of June 30 coming, when Presti made the biggest move of the summer by acquiring George on the eve of free agency from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Suddenly the Thunder again have two superstars under their employ, and had a path back to the top of the Western Conference that most had thought disappeared for quite some time when Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in July of 2016.
Presti’s big move has brought hope back to Oklahoma City.
“He had his exit interview press conference and he basically said ‘We’re going to improve internally, we have a lot of good young talent, this talent is going to be cultivated and brought along,'” Dawson said. “But nobody believed that was all he wanted to do was bring back the core because that was the core of a team that won 47 games and that’s not really the standard around here, and it’s certainly not the standard when Russell Westbrook is going to be 29 when next season starts.
“I don’t think anyone thought they wanted to stand pat. I think the question was whether they had the pieces to make a big move like this. Obviously with Paul George, there were some extenuating circumstances, and they were able to pull off a trade that still … I was talking to somebody today, and it’s still is just shocking to most people around the league.”
While getting George was obviously the headlining move of the offseason for the Thunder, it wasn’t the only one. On the podcast, Dawson discusses the other personnel moves: re-signing Andre Roberson as a restricted free agent and convincing free agent forward Patrick Patterson to take a discount — a move Dawson said Coach Billy Donovan’s presence played a role in making happen.
Dawson also gives his thoughts on the potential on-court dynamic between Westbrook and George, as well as the likelihood both players stay in Oklahoma City after they hit free agency next summer.
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