Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

D.A.: Paul George and Thunder Give Hope to NBA Dreamers

OKC took a chance on trading for George, but the gamble paid off in the end

Damon Amendolara
July 02, 2018 - 12:00 am

It was a prayer, a half-court heave at the buzzer down three. One year ago, the Thunder was out of time and GM Sam Presti figured he'd try something, anything. So he traded for Paul George in a desperate attempt to keep Russell Westbrook in the midwest. OKC had been ravaged by free agency once before, watching Kevin Durant head out west, and probably dealing with seller's remorse it had traded James Harden. Swinging a deal with the Pacers wasn't even a win. It was akin to forcing overtime. There was still more work to be done. 

Last summer the Thunder sent Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis to Indiana, hoping the ensuing year a full-court press of love would sway George to sign an extension in OKC. It sounded like he wanted to go to the Lakers. It seemed like there's no way he'd want to stay long-term in Oklahoma. It appeared as though the Thunder was throwing itself at the last girl in the bar when the lights came on, even though she looked disinterested and tired and her friends had gone home. 

But dammit, it worked. George's decision to sign an extension with the Thunder is a massive victory for the NBA dreamers out there, the Jim Carey-Dumb and Dumber crowd. So you're saying there's a chance? We've been conditioned to assume small-markets stood no chance in the free-agency machine. Stars would jump to big cities, glamour markets, places with pretty people and famous histories. But Presti bet on his team and his community. The Thunder bet on themselves. They felt as though they could win over the prom queen if she would just grant that first date. They were right. 

I was an East Coast guy who followed a career to the Midwest. I relate to that powerful persuasion. When I was offered a job in Kansas City in my early-20s, my familiarity with the region consisted of Derrick Thomas, George Brett and BBQ. But man, did I quickly fall hard. How can people be this nice? How can they love sports this much? How can the city be this clean? How can my rent be this cheap? How can the food be this good? How can the beer be this cold? How can life be this good? 

George felt the same things, although he doesn't worry about rent. Oklahoma City is bonkers about its basketball team, and sometimes you find that love you were looking for in unexpected places. Clearly there's a bond forged with Westbrook. Obviously there's a trust built with Presti and Billy Donovan. There's a comfort with the city, the fans, and the lifestyle. 

The Thunder can be roundly criticized for not doing everything in its power to keep its original cast together. It's the greatest "What if?" in NBA history. OKC now has a payroll of $156M, and according to ESPN, it'll also own the largest tax bill in league history ($130M). Once upon a time, those financial penalties were the reason they traded Harden, and broke up a core that had just won the West. But seeing how success and deep playoff runs aren't guaranteed, the Thunder has found the stomach to now pay (perhaps overpay). After that heartache and regret, they started dreaming again. They just took a shot from midcourt. And guess what? It went in.