6 min read

Monday Bolts: 7.2.18

Royce Young on how the Thunder’s wild gamble for Paul George paid off: “Two summers ago, the Thunder walked Kevin Durant into a meeting the day before free agency started. They had that orchestrated, too, with a sign across the street that read, “Taking on Tomorrow, Today” with examples of how he has lifted the city on his shoulders and built a franchise. They told him about a fueled-up jet sitting on a runway ready for them to go recruit Al Horford together. Durant left on his own jet and went to the Hamptons, and the rest is history. It’s a fairy-tale comeback, one that seemed impossible to pull off. By beating back the allure of Los Angeles, and the Lakers, and Magic Johnson and maybe even a recruitment by LeBron James, the Thunder have shattered through the glass ceiling of market stereotype. This kind of moment isn’t supposed to be possible. Because here the Thunder are, with a superstar duo, both born and raised in Southern California, locked up for the long-term in the primes of their careers, choosing to stay in Oklahoma.”

Erik Horne on Paul George finding comfort and continuity in Oklahoma City: “Even before the clock struck 11 p.m. on Saturday, the official start of NBA free agency, George was speaking into a microphone with conviction in front of an adoring crowd of partygoers just northeast of Oklahoma City. George was assured, waiting for the crowd to stop chanting the initials “PG” before finishing his sentence. “If y’all didn’t quite get it,” George said, “… let me say again: I’m here to stay.” The most surprising detail of George’s free agency, which ended Saturday night when the 28-year-old agreed to a four-year, $137 million contract with the Thunder, is that it never really started. The continuity and certainty the Thunder provided were contributors to George never giving other teams a chance.”

Jon Hamm (B/R) on PG’s decision validating the Thunder and Russell Westbrook: “George’s commitment was a win on multiple levels. For the community, it was a clapback at those who think there’s little life or civilization in OKC. For Thunder ownership, it was an enormous “told you so” to those who said they’d never spend enough. For Sam Presti, it was a coup. It was also a much-needed win for Westbrook. The Thunder star has been painted—fairly and unfairly—in a negative light. Kevin Durant’s departure led to the conclusion that star players didn’t want to play alongside Westbrook, who’s been accused of preventing teammates from reaching their full potential. His public persona and on-court temperament aren’t endearing.”

Tim Bontemps (WaPo) on PG’s decision being monumental for Oklahoma City: “A year ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder swung for the fences. By trading for Paul George without any guarantee he would commit to them past this summer — and with many expecting him to go to the Los Angeles Lakers— General Manager Sam Presti hoped getting the star forward into his building, and around his team, for 12 months would be able to sway him to stay. Presti’s bet paid off, with George committing to re-sign with the Thunder late Saturday night, multiple sources confirmed to The Washington Post. The four-year, $137 million deal, which was being celebrated at a party George was attending along with Oklahoma City’s front office that was hosted by teammate Russell Westbrook, contains a player option for the fourth year.”

Kevin Pelton (ESPN) on if PG’s return makes the Thunder title contenders: “Looming over all of these decisions is a crucial question: Just how good does Oklahoma City project to be in 2018-19 after re-signing George? Certainly, the Thunder are better-positioned now than had George left via free agency, in which case Oklahoma City would still have been in the luxury tax with few options to improve an average roster. The success of the Thunder’s starting five last season has been a point in favor of Anthony’s value to the team. Oklahoma City outscored opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions last season with its starters on the court, the second-best net rating among the 10 lineups that logged at least 500 minutes in 2017-18 according to NBA Advanced Stats.”

John Gonzalez (Ringer) on how it’s time for the hard part in OKC: “Is it possible to build a title contender around Westbrook, who signed a five-year, $205 million extension last September? Because if it’s not—and so far we haven’t seen any signs that he can do it all by himself even though he keeps trying to—then they’ll eventually have to consider hitting a hard reset and ask around about what Russ might fetch. Not only are the Thunder handcuffed by their current cap sheet, OKC is also thin on the asset front moving forward. The Thunder have no extra incoming picks, and they owe a 2020 first-rounder to Orlando (protected 1-20). Clearing the decks and starting over wouldn’t have been easy to stomach, but it might have been the better option. The Thunder got what they wanted and retained George. But the smarter and admittedly more painful play might have been for Presti to follow the advice of a decidedly different Tribe line: “Sit back, relax, and let yourself go.”

Fred Segal (Outkick the Coverage) with a collection of “PG is going to LA” takes: “It is official: Paul George is re-signing with Oklahoma City. According to ESPN, the free agent All-Star forward and the Thunder agreed to a four-year $137 million max contract early Sunday morning.  The announcement was a big surprise to many who thought, from the moment George was traded from Indiana to OKC last June, would sign with the Lakers this summer.  Here’s a collection of folks convinced he would end up in LA or, at the least, would not re-sign with Oklahoma City.”

Adrian Wojnarowski (ESPN) on the Thunder re-signing Jerami Grant: “Grant, 24, has become a vital young cog of the Thunder core, a young player that All-Star free agent Paul George has been enthusiastic about Oklahoma City keeping on its roster. Keeping Grant on a $9 million annual salary could cost the Thunder an additional $40 million in luxury tax. His re-signing is a clear message to George and All-Star guard Russell Westbrook about ownership’s willingness to possibly host the largest payroll in NBA history.”

Dan Feldman (Yahoo) looks at the Thunder’s finances after re-signing Paul George & Jerami Grant: “Based on those terms, Grant’s salary next season will be between $8,333,333 and $9,782,609. Let’s assume it’s on the low end (most likely). Let’s also assume the Thunder sign their three second-round picks to minimum contracts and sign one more veteran (maybe re-signing Raymond Felton, though the specific player doesn’t matter here) to a minimum contract. Oklahoma City would be in line for a $150,152,424 luxury-tax bill! The largest luxury tax paid in NBA history was $90,570,781 by the 2014 Nets. That looks paltry next to the Thunder’s slated amount. However, the luxury tax isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season. The Thunder have plenty of time to trim salary. They can stretch Kyle Singler, trade Patrick Patterson or even move bigger names like Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams.”

Timothy Rapp (B/R) on the growing belief OKC will get rid of Carmelo Anthony: “At least two anonymous NBA players reportedly believe the Oklahoma City Thunder will move on from forward Carmelo Anthony this summer, according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype, with the organization facing a massive luxury tax bill. “I don’t think Paul George would have returned to OKC if the roster was going to be the same,” one player reportedly told Kennedy. “They already re-signed [Jerami] Grant… [Moving on from] Carmelo makes the most sense.” The other player added: “I think the Thunder are getting rid of ‘Melo. Then, I think newly stretched ‘Melo joins the Houston Rockets or joins LeBron James wherever he lands.”

Brett Dawson on the Thunder being linked to free agent centers: “Former Mavericks center Nerlens Noel has narrowed his list of prospective new teams to the Wizards, Lakers and Thunder, according to a report Sunday night from Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania, who reported Noel is drawing interest from the Pelicans.  That followed a Sunday morning report from NBA.com’s David Aldridge that the Thunder is among the teams in the mix for Warriors free-agent center JaVale McGee, along with Golden State, the Lakers and the Pelicans. Late Sunday night, ESPN reported McGee had agreed to a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.”

Around the League: LeBron James is a Laker…. How the Lakers can contend for a title…. Why LeBron’s Cleveland legacy is set in stone…. Could Boogie and Kawhi join LeBron in LA?…. Kevin Durant is returning to the Warriors on a short-term deal…. Takeaways from the wild first day of free agency…. Devin Booker is upset with the Suns organization…. All the latest free agency buzz and signings.