Just about every team in the league was trying, in some way, to land Paul George. Many had cap space. Others, high draft picks or juicy trade chips. No one saw it coming, but the Thunder managed to make the biggest offseason splash of 2017.
The words bold and prudent don’t often go together. In fact, in an NBA offseason those approaches can be diametrically opposed. Not for Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and his staff. In one well-timed, perfectly executed swing of the bat, Presti connected with a trade for one of the NBA’s elite players. A four-time All-Star, a three-time All-NBA Team performer and three-time All-Defensive player, George is one of those precious, highly sought-after two-way stars. Only a few exist in the league, particularly with his height, strength, speed and athletic profile.
“We are excited to welcome Paul George to the Thunder family and the Oklahoma City community,” said Presti. “Paul is a tremendous fit for our organization on and off the floor. He represents all the positive traits of an elite competitor, and we have long admired his relentless pursuit to improve and his ability to impact on-court success. His skill set is dynamic and at the forefront of the evolution of the game, yet he combines this with traditional and historical values and will. We are fortunate to have an incredibly unique player wear the Thunder Blue and know he will help us as we continue to build the legacy of the Thunder in real time.”
It took patience and preparation for sure. The Thunder had to have every scenario rehearsed and all of its homework done to be ready for George to become available. Equally as important, the Thunder had to be willing to think big, to take a chance and be aggressive.
Presti himself previewed this approach back on May 1, two months before he had the chance to actually execute his vision.
“The reason we have been able to make decisions and to make deals is because one, we haven't said yes to the first thing that came across our desk and been impulsive. Two, we've been positioned in a way that allows us to be decisive and have flexibility to have things other people might be interested in. And we've had a clear idea as to what we're looking for, so that when those things do present themselves, we can strike and we can try to make the team better,” Presti said.
At the time, it sounded like a mission statement, something that the Thunder aims for every summer. In retrospect, it almost seems prophetic. Past as prologue.
The reason for all the excitement is not just that the trade was made, but really because of the type of player than George is, and has been, throughout his time in the NBA. With the 6-foot-9, 220 pound wing in tow, Oklahoma City will be the home of two of perhaps the top 15 best and most dynamic players in the world. He’s a fluid athlete, with an explosive streak both with his attacks to the rim and his ability to get hot on the perimeter with his jump shot. After winning Most Improved Player of the Year in 2013, he’s still managed to develop as a player, even despite a devastating leg injury that derailed his 2014-15 season.
Resilient and unfazed, George bounced back in 2016-17 and averaged career-bests in 2016-17 in points per game (23.8) and field goal percentage (46.1), while knocking down 39.3 percent of his three-pointers and 89.8 percent of his free throw attempts.
Yes, he’s an incredible catch-and-shoot player and he can generate his own shot with ease. He’s not just a high-level scorer, though. In his four All-Star seasons, his offensive rating (points his team scores per 100 possessions) has eclipsed his defensive rating (points his team allows per 100 possessions) by an average of 5.75 points. He’s snared 1.7 steals per game for his career, and can also contribute as a playmaker and on the glass, dishing out 3.2 assists and grabbing 6.3 rebounds per game in his seven NBA seasons.
To bring in a player of George’s caliber required the composure to be opportunistic. That preparation and patience has led to the most crucial outcome: a competitive, contending team for Thunder fans to enjoy for yet another year.
This season, the tenth in Oklahoma City, will mark a decade of exciting, thrilling basketball. Every year, even through adversity, there’s been hope. There’s been optimism and awe for what these incredible athletes put out onto the floor each night, and appreciation for the platform the Thunder and its fans provide. It’s extremely rare in pro sports for an organization to be amongst the best for this long.
“We're trying to do something here that I don't think there's a ton of examples of in the NBA, which is go from seven or eight years of contention and avoid dropping out of the post-season for an extended period of time,” Presti explained. “And what we're trying to do is stay competitive and find ourselves back up into that group of teams that a lot of teams never have the opportunity to be a part of.”