OKC Thunder: Westbrook's future evolving following George being dealt for historic haul of picks

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates with Paul George after a basket during the second half of Game 3 of the team's NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, April 19, 2019, in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — As of Saturday evening, Russell Westbrook and his agent were reportedly in talks with the Thunder about the point guard’s future, in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, yet no other seismic changes had hit the franchise since the middle of the previous night.

That was when ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the following at 1:05 a.m. Saturday morning:

“Going onto SportsCenter now to report on the Clippers landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.”

The reported deal has Oklahoma City sending George to the Los Angeles Clippers, who will also be signing Leonard, a free agent after leading Toronto to an NBA championship, to a four-year, $142 million maximum contract.

In return, Oklahoma City will receive five first-round draft picks and two players: Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

OKC will receive the Clippers’ three first-round selections, unprotected, in the 2022, 2024 and 2026 drafts, meaning the Thunder will own the picks no matter how high in the draft they may fall.

The Thunder will also receive two first-round picks the Clippers owned that originated with the Miami Heat, an unprotected selection in the 2021 draft and a top-14 protected selection in the 2023 draft.

Additionally, the Thunder received the right to swap picks with the Clippers in the 2023 and 2025 drafts.

“Staggering,” is the final word New York Times NBA reporter Marc Stein used in his 1:53 a.m. Saturday morning tweet that explained the Thunder’s haul.

Last season, Gallinari, a 6-10 forward and 11-season veteran, averaged 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists, playing an average 30.3 minutes in 66 games with the Clippers.

Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-6 point guard, turned in a stellar rookie year, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists, playing an average 26.5 minutes over all 82 games.

Both are accomplished 3-point shooters, with Gallinari hitting 43.3 percent of his attempts last season and Gilgeous-Alexander hitting 36.7 percent.

At 11:33 a.m. Saturday, ESPN’s Wojnarowski released a story describing the machinations behind the deal.

Many forces were at work.

The Clippers feared Leonard going to the Lakers, joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis, if they failed to land him themselves and saw securing George as their only ticket to land him.

The Clippers’ willingness to part with so much of their future appeared to be driven by three factors.

One, they didn’t want to be a distant second in their own city to the Lakers.

Two, had Leonard chosen the Lakers, they feared their profile dropping so precipitously, they might fall into being the Clippers of old, when the organization experienced just two winning seasons between 1980 and 2011.

Three, they were dealing with Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also negotiating with the Toronto Raptors, possibly swinging a deal to send George north of the border to play with Leonard there.

In the end, stunningly, Presti wasn’t just negotiating George’s departure for OKC to LA, but seemingly Leonard’s from Toronto to LA, too, giving him the leverage required to receive such an historic ransom.

Also, according to the ESPN story, “George and Leonard wanted to play together, and George and his agent, CAA’s Aaron Mintz, approached Thunder general manager Sam Presti in recent days and requested a trade, league sources said.”

George and Leonard are both Southern Californians, George originally from Palmdale and Leonard born in Los Angeles and attending high school in both Canyon Springs and Riverside.

What happens next appears to be a question of the interests of two parties, the Thunder and point guard Russell Westbrook, and those interests could be in concert or opposition.

Even in its plans to enter the season led by both Westbrook and George, Oklahoma City had also appeared hopeful of cutting salary, saving money paid to their players, but also repeat-offender luxury taxes to the NBA for exceeding the league’s salary cap.

George’s contract calls for him to be paid $33 million next season. Gallinari’s due to make $22.6 million and Gilgeous-Alexander $3.95 million. That’s a savings of almost $7.5 million, which could save OKC multiples of that figure in luxury taxes.

Yet, that doesn’t mean the Thunder would not still be paying luxury taxes.

The NBA’s luxury tax threshold is a payroll of $132.627 million and, according to Spotrac.com, which charts payrolls and salaries of every major North American sports league, the Thunder’s current payroll — without George, with Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander, yet also without previously reported agreements with Mike Muscala and Alec Burks, which could now be in peril — remains $142.172 million, making for a tax bill of an additional $24.998 million.

Saturday, the original report of Westbrook and his agent entering discussions with Presti surfaced at 1:26 p.m.

Yet, as of Saturday evening, no additional news, beyond conjecture and speculation, had appeared on the horizon.

Of course, the previous 24 hours is all the proof anybody might need to know that could change very quickly.


Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.

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