Here is the way two national outlets have portrayed what’s going on with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Royce Young covers the Thunder for ESPN and, Wednesday, tweeted the following as news broke that Chris Paul would not only likely begin next season in Oklahoma City, but perhaps finish it, too:
“The Thunder are setting the table for a rebuild, but that’s not happening yet. You can’t rebuild the house until you’ve torn it down and they’re still in the process of tearing it down. They believe they could be competitive for a playoff spot next season with CP3, Adams and Gallinari.”
Brett Dawson covers Oklahoma City for The Athletic, and here’s an excerpt from a story that hit screens, also Wednesday, also in relation to the news Paul’s likely to stay put for a while.
“Does it delay the process of tanking? Does it suggest the Thunder won’t hit rock bottom at all and rather will look to remain competitive during a rebuild? Is Oklahoma City gunning for the playoffs in 2018-20 … It’s complicated.”
Logic, the way the NBA works, the Thunder roster, presuming it can remain healthy, all point toward the possibilities Dawson offers. And, just maybe, Young is right about the Thunder’s ability to compete for a playoff spot, yet not entirely right about the need to tear it all down before rebuilding.
About that, the bounty created by trading Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets and Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets — eight first-round draft picks, a quartet of first-round draft swaps should the Thunder care to use them, as well as Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — gives OKC ultimate flexibility.
When the time’s right, the Thunder could turn some of those picks into a superstar via trade, and when the time is right again, perhaps another one.
Eventually, Oklahoma City could deal Paul and/or Gallinari for yet more picks and yet more time-is-right possibilities.
Those moves could take place three to five years down the road or, should the fountain of youth hit Paul and should Gilgeous-Alexander develop faster than expected, and should Adams make a leap playing with a conventional and Hall of Fame point guard while no longer ceding points and rebounds to Westbrook, well, just maybe the Thunder brass could be persuaded to build rather than tear down as soon as the next offseason.
Of course, Oklahoma City could simply exercise all the draft picks it now owns as originally intended — in the draft — and root to select another trio of future MVPs, as it did when it grabbed Kevin Durant, Westbrook and James Harden in back-to-back-to-back drafts from 2007-09.
Look at this way:
Never has a team had so many as-yet unrealized assets to work with. Thus, the Thunder can do whatever they want, and whatever they want is bound to be influenced by as-yet-unknown facts on the ground.
Meanwhile, training camp begins in September, the season in October and what might OKC’s starting lineup look like on Day 1?
Here’s a reasonable guess.
• Point guard (1): Paul.
• Shooting guard (2): Gilgeous-Alexander.
• Small forward (3): Terrance Ferguson.
• Power forward (4): Gallinari.
• Center (5): Adams.
That would also mean, barring future offseason moves, an interesting bench that includes Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel, a conceivably finally healthy Andre Roberson, as well as the newly acquired Mike Muscala, returnees Hamidou Diallo, Abdel Nader, Deonte Burton and Patrick Patterson and first-round draft pick Darius Bazley.
There’s clearly versatility.
Gilgeous-Alexander can play the 2 but is more naturally a 1. Ferguson can play the 2 or the 3. Gallinari can play the 3 or the 4 and conceivably the 5 if the Thunder really want to spread the floor. Roberson can play the 2 or the 3 and, if he’s really back to full health, could find himself in the starting five.
As a band of shooters, OKC figures to be improved. Twice during his career, Paul was a 40 percent 3-point shooter. His career mark is 37 percent and last season it was 35.2, low for him but clearly better than Westbrook’s 29 percent clip last season.
Gallinari hit 43.3 percent from distance last season, averaging a career-high 2.4 makes per game, more than any Thunder player aside from George (3.8) last season.
Ferguson finished last season hitting 36.6 percent from distance, but 39.4 percent over his last 42 games.
One thing the Thunder don’t have is a dominant scorer, though Paul averaged 15.6 points last season, Gallinari a career-high 19.8 and Adams 13.9, despite averaging just 5.6 in second halves, which would seem to give him room to grow.
Health is a concern for Paul and Gaillari, who will be entering their 15th and 12th seasons.
Paul played in 74 games during the 2015-16 season but has seen action in 61, 58 and 58 since. Gallinari missed all of the 2013-14 season to an ACL tear, and his high-game count since is the 68 he played last season.
Still, if the Thunder can put their best team on the court night after night, there’s reason to believe it might find its way back to the playoffs.
Take a look at that starting five again.
It could happen.