OKC Thunder: No word on Westbrook, but George deal official and Presti breaks silence

AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, left, looks to pass the ball around Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Wednesday, via the release officially announcing Paul George’s being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, offered his first public statement about the on-court reboot so clearly taking place within the organization.

“From the time that Paul and his representation made us aware of what had been transpiring and their subsequent request, our focus as an organization was identifying the best paths for our future,” Presti said. “Resiliency has been a staple of our city and our franchise, and this challenge provided us with another opportunity to demonstrate that.

“Our goal with this transaction was to create value both in the short and long term and help reposition and replenish the organization's future platform.”

The future consequences of that sentiment, however, remain entirely uncertain. Those plot lines have yet to play out and, about them, there’s much to consider.

Considering Russell

No consideration is greater than the immediate future of Russell Westbrook, which could be or may not be in Oklahoma City to begin next season.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, once the assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, the Thunder are very close to no longer being a luxury-tax paying team.

The NBA’s luxury-tax threshold is $132.6 million and, if next season began today, Oklahoma City’s payroll would be $3.8 million over that line, resulting in $9.7 million in luxury taxes.

The Thunder are reportedly trying to move Westbrook which should put them under the cap and perhaps well under it.

However, the only team the Thunder have been reported to be in serious discussions with is Miami, which is above the tax threshold itself and is therefore barred from taking on additional salary and if the Heat can't do that, the Thunder can't receive less salary in return, thereby getting out of future luxury taxes.

One way to make everything work might be to involve one or more teams, in addition to OKC and Miami, in any proposed deal.

Westbrook is due $38.5 million next season, $41.4 million in the 2020-21 season, $44.2 million in 2021-22 and $47.1 million in 2022-23.

Better picks

Kawhi Leonard continues to be full of surprises. Expected to sign a max deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, spanning four years and worth more than $140 million, it came to light Wednesday that he has instead signed a three-year deal worth $103 million with a player option on the final year.

That’s where it gets interesting for the Thunder, because that means Leonard and Paul George will both be facing the same questions following the 2020-21 season: remain in their deals for a third Clipper season, become a free agent and re-sign with the Clippers or become a free agent and sign elsewhere.

And if Leonard and George leave the Clippers together in 2021, that could make the first-round picks Oklahoma City received from the Clippers much better picks in the 2022, 2024 and 2026 drafts.

Non-playoff teams enter the draft lottery to determine which team gets which pick through the draft’s first 14 selections. The 15th through 30th selection are determined inversely to order of finish the previous season.

The more the Clippers struggle, the higher the Thunder select.

Also Wednesday, the Thunder announced a $10.4 million trade exception has been created by trading George.

Counting them up

Prior to confirming the George deal, the Thunder announced the signing of forward/center Mike Muscala, who chose to stick with the agreement negotiated with OKC prior to George being dealt.

Muscala’s addition, along with Shai Gigeious-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari coming over from the Clippers, puts 14 players under NBA contract on the Thunder roster, Westbrook included.

OKC’s two-deep at each position right now is a bit of a mystery.

The Thunder count three point guards in Westbrook, Dennis Schroder and Gigeous-Alexander; three shooting guards in Terrance Ferguson, Andre Roberson and Hamidou Diallo; two small forwards in Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton; three power forwards in Gallinari, Patrick Patterson and Darus Bazley and three centers in Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Muscala.

Of course, some of those names — and positions — remain subject to change.

Summer league

The Thunder, who have won 2 of 3 games in the NBA’s Las Vegas summer league, meet Portland at 7 tonight.

Tuesday, OKC topped Croatia 84-76, led by Kevin Hervey’s 13 points.

Khadeem Carrington added 12 points off the bench, Hamidou Diallo and Donte Grantham both finished with 11 and Devon Hall and Emanuel Terry both finished with 10.

Presti’s last word

Presti, in Wednesday’s release, offered a final statement about Paul George’s time with the Thunder.

"The Thunder thanks Paul for his contributions to the organization and our community,” he said. “We are proud that Paul is a part of our history as an organization and that some of the best basketball of his career was in Oklahoma City. He should be remembered fondly. We wish him and his family the best.”

Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript.


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