The Party Continues
At a sensational party in Oklahoma City on the eve of the NBA’s July 1st start of free agency, forward Paul George publicly announced his intention to commit long-term to the Thunder, and the news broke that fellow forward Jerami Grant followed suit.
Two California kids and Queens’ finest shared a stage last Saturday night. It wasn’t in the Big Apple or Tinseltown. That platform was perched in the woods, off old Route 66, in the hamlet of Arcadia, Oklahoma.
Just 20 miles from Chesapeake Energy Arena, along the asphalt artery that once linked the east coast to Southern California, lay the connection point for Los Angeles natives Paul George and Russell Westbrook, along with legendary rapper Nas, one of New York City’s greatest hip-hop prodigies.
It was at that juncture where George announced his intention to return to the Thunder on a multi-year deal, cementing his place within the organization and the community as a basketball player for sure, but also as a leader and tone-setter.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) July 6, 2018
A decade ago, Oklahoma City and the Thunder were suddenly planted on a national stage when the NBA settled one of its 30 franchises in town, and since then the city and organization have grown to international status. That transformation has been highlighted by an incredible period of success and long playoff runs. It crossed into a different realm at Saturday evening’s concert and Summer Hype House Party, hosted by Westbrook, which doubled as a night of historic free agent activity for the Thunder front office.
George strolled onto the stage alongside Westbrook, and amid the din of a roaring crowd of 500 Thunder faithful, shouted just one word to confirm everyone’s hopes: “Oklahomaaaaaaaa!!!”
Donning new cornrows under a black baseball hat, George then announced that he intended to be back with the Thunder, citing his connection to the fan base as a significant reason. Those fans soaked in the splendor of it all in under the moonlight at that Arcadia mansion. The sprawling estate was filled to the brim with hors d’vours, oysters, champagne and much more. Near the outdoor swimming pool, an artist from New York created a unique piece, live on stage. Before Nas performed some of his classics like “Hate me Now”, “One Mic” and “Made You Look”, George had a bit more to say.
“I’m here to stay,” George grinned. “I think what me and this dude (Westbrook) right here can accomplish, we can bring it home.”
“Oklahoma ya’ll have truly made a big impact on me,” George continued. “I’m happy to give this a real shot.”
Summer Hype House Party:
The news of George’s intention to sign with the Thunder once the NBA’s moratorium concluded sprang onto people’s phones as the clock struck midnight Eastern Time. The 5-time All-Star forward’s decision to stay with the Thunder ensured that at least on paper, the Thunder will be a contender for years to come. That extends a window of relevancy and prominence for one of the league’s smallest markets to over a decade. In NBA years, that’s a lifetime.
Behind the diligent, industrious work of the Thunder’s architect, General Manager and Executive Vice President and his staff, the organization recruited George all season long during his first campaign in Oklahoma City. The first pitch was the moment George was acquired by trade in June of 2017, with no guarantees that he’d be in Thunder blue for more than a season. The confidence of that move alone, along with the reception he got at Will Rogers World Airport upon his arrival in Oklahoma City, was etched in George’s mind from the very start.
The amenities at the practice facility, the resources, the coaching, the brotherhood in the locker room and the one-of-a-kind support from the fan base all coalesced into what ultimately seemed to be a straightforward decision for George. The uncomplicated nature of his free agency was surprising to some, but George said it himself when the 2018 season concluded, whether or not people chose to listen:
“(The Thunder) honestly check the boxes where I needed those boxes to be checked from what a player wants and needs out of a front office, out of a medical group, out of teammates, out of coaching staff,” George said. “They checked the boxes on what needs to be checked.”
In George’s first season in Oklahoma City he had one of the most prolific three-point shooting seasons of his career by shooting 40.1 percent from distance on a career-high 7.7 attempts per game. He was productive on both ends, averaging 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game while earning an All-Star nod. Still, by his own admission George feels like there was unfinished business in Oklahoma, and that he could be even better in 2018-19 with another year of chemistry built in with Westbrook and company.
Just minutes after the news of George’s intention to re-sign with the Thunder trickled through fans’ timelines, another report bubbled up. Jerami Grant’s name was the one scrolling across the ticker with the Thunder attached, giving Oklahoma City another young, productive, versatile player to keep in the family.
Through Grant’s two seasons in Oklahoma City, his strides forward have been more than obvious. They’ve been stunning at times. His first year with the Thunder his three-point shooting jumped dramatically, from 24.0 to 37.1 percent, and his athleticism popped off the court in dramatic ways.
In Year 2, Grant was much more controlled, and as a result, impactful. His defense was a revelation – he led the team in charges taken while still providing above the rim deterrents from the weakside. On offense, his improved lower body strength led to more balanced and effective attacks to the rim. Grant’s numbers elevated to 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting a career-best 53.5 percent from the field.
The Thunder coaches and front office are banking on Grant’s work ethic and forward progress continuing into future seasons, giving the Thunder a crucial core of five players under contract for years to come. In Westbrook, George, Grant, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, there’s a quintet that all fit a specific profile in terms of athleticism, flexibility and most importantly, a win-first temperament.
Now that George and Grant’s commitments are officially official, Thunder fans will be able to look back at the late hours of Saturday June 30 and the morning of Sunday July 1 as one of the most critical time periods in the franchise’s young history. As the organization turned the page from the 10th year of NBA basketball in Oklahoma City to the second decade that same week, the momentous weekend created quite the opening paragraph to begin the next chapter.