Things could not have shifted more dramatically for a franchise than it did for the Oklahoma City Thunder on Independence Day Monday.
While still being one of the perennial contenders in the Western Conference, the Thunder lost its superstar in Kevin Durant Monday morning. He announced via The Players Tribune that he would be playing with the Golden State Warriors next season.
The team had made a move during the draft trading power forward Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova in order to persuade him to stay. It wouldn’t be enough. The chance to compete alongside the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green, a budding NBA dynasty was too much to turn down.
So where do the Thunder go from here? They undoubtedly have some great young pieces in place with Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo. However, with Russell Westbrook facing free agency next season, the Thunder might be better off trading the guard as they’re unlikely to attract a key free agent next summer. They also might be just as unlikely to re-sign Westbrook to a contract extension. David Aldridge already reported that there would be no renegotiation or extension from him.
One of the best suitors for Westbrook might be the Boston Celtics. The Celtics made a big splash this offseason in acquiring former Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford in free agency while still keeping all of their valuable assets. They made a push at acquiring Kevin Durant but ultimately came up short. The Celtics also have the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round draft pick for yet another year, a pick that could wind up in the top five yet again.
The Celtics could put together a trade package that would include point guard Isaiah Thomas, whose contract pays him just over $6.2 million in 2017-18. In the current NBA climate where we’ve seen some very lucrative contracts offered to free agents, that’s quite the steal. That, on top of a potential top-five pick (among other picks and/or players), is a pretty good deal for a player who would likely otherwise walk away for nothing. Consider it the Thunder protecting themselves from going into NBA oblivion.
The benefit in getting this pick (amongst others, depending on the deal) from the Celtics would be the ability to draft yet another franchise player with the benefit of having them on a rookie deal for a handful of years. The prospect of Westbrook leaving isn’t farfetched and, quite frankly, very likely, so this seems like the best-case scenario for OKC.
Of course, the Celtics don’t have to be the only potential trading partner for the Thunder. The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, amongst others, could be in contention for Westbrook.
In retrospect, if you would have told the Thunder before the end of the season they would lose Kevin Durant for nothing, they would have moved him. Part of the reason Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State had to be that he knew Westbrook wasn’t certain on sticking around, so there was no need to keep himself in a position where the future would be up in the air. Durant knows what to expect in the Bay Area. It’s more of a known quantity.
Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder front office are a smart group, and surely they will make the best decisions for the franchise moving forward. But to strike out on Russell Westbrook after losing Durant would be a colossal mistake, one that you shouldn’t expect them to make. There’s a plethora of different ways you could get creative with trade scenarios, but the bottom line is that the Thunder should seriously consider moving their star point guard before it’s too late.