(Photo cred: The Norman Transcript)
Two years without Durant. Two first-round exits. Three combined playoff wins. It is fair to say that the Oklahoma City Thunder have seen better days. This offseason proves to be tumultuous to say the least. Best case scenario: Paul George stays, Carmelo leaves, and OKC signs a shooter like Redick or Bradley. Worst case scenario: Paul George leaves and Carmelo opts in. There is a multitude of scenarios in between. So, what is the best way to fix this team? I present to you five different options.
1. Resign Paul George and buyout Carmelo.
Sorry Thunder fans, but there is no way Carmelo turns down 27 million dollars. The guy is going to opt in and just screw everything up. Sam Presti must buy him out. Coach Donovan and Presti can threaten to bring Melo off the bench or, not play him more than 15 minutes a night. Brimming with pride, Carmelo will not accept a bench role, something he has been vocal about. They could pay 20 million to buyout his contract.
A Paul George extension would soak up around 32 million of the Thunder’s salary. They would have to look for veterans to sign; players who could knock down some threes or play tough defense. Perhaps they take a flier on a guy like Seth Curry or try and bring in the much-improved Shane Larkin. The money will be tight in OKC.
2. If PG13 walks…
Then a Melo buyout is a must. With George gone, the Thunder may be able to get away with paying Melo less, as he may want to sign with a contender. Good. Let’s pretend that all of this goes as planned and OKC has around 40 million in cap space. What could they do?
A. Sign JJ Redick – 3 years, 60 million dollars.
Coming off his best season to date, JJ is only getting better with age. Russ thrives next to floor spacers and Redick is one of the best of them. Make the 3 years a player option and this could be enough to attract Redick to Oklahoma.
B. Sign Ersan Ilyasova – 3 years, 24 million.
Ersan made around 7 million this year and has outperformed his contract. The man is having perhaps a career year for the Sixers. He nails threes plays underrated defense and grab offensive boards. Westbrook needs to be surrounded by shooters. Speaking of which…
C. Sign Wayne Ellington – 2 years, 20 million.
Wayne is a sniper. 10 million is steep for him, but OKC could offset that cost by making his second year a team option. A small lineup of Russ, JJ, Ellington, Ersan, and Adams would be deadly on offense. This lineup fits Billy Donovan’s scheme perfectly. Sub in Roberson for more defense. The “more-than-casual” fan may like this option.
3. If PG13 walks Part 2…
Again, do what it takes to buyout Melo. Then, offer Aaron Gordon in restricted free agency. Max him out. Make Orlando sweat. New management took over Orlando and the more that Gordon’s name popped up in trade rumors, the more we learned that he may not be one of management’s “guys.” The Magic may be looking for a fresh start that doesn’t include Gordon. Him and Westbrook running the floor together would be a deadly plus, Gordon is an improving defender and three-point shooter. This move comes with potential but also makes sure that seats are filled.
4. Resign Paul George and hope for the best.
Run it back one more time. By staggering Melo’s minutes so he is on the floor while Russ and George are not, it may please the former Knick. Melo was a 3 and D player this year. Problem is, he is a worse three-point shooter than his reputation gives him credit for. Out of the 15 season, Carmelo has played, in only 4 of them has he shot around league average (36 %) from three. In fact, he has failed to break 36% from deep in his last four seasons. And his defense…nuff said. By giving Melo a chance to be the sole offensive operator, things could turn around.
Paul George had an excellent season on both sides of the ball. Yet, he still disappeared in the postseason. Thunder brass recently stated that Russ vows to work in his three-pointer this summer. Could this be a hint that he is willing to differ more to George? If so, their offense could unlock another level. The talent for this team is here, they just need to figure it all out. Another season under their belt could help. A healthy Roberson is a boost as well. Look to add a guy like Seth Curry or Shane Larkin on a cheap deal.
5. The Trade
Pelicans get Steven Adams, Alex Abrines, Kyle Singler and a 2019 first round pick.
Thunder get Demarcus Cousins via a sign and trade.
Why New Orleans does it: Zach Lowe reported that the Pelicans front office may offer Cousins a shorter deal. Why? Because they are worried about Boogie’s health. After all, big men do not typically bounce all the way back to 100% after his injury. The Pelicans have also had an excellent season without Cousins. Adding Adams brings them a healthy rim protector and rebounder. Abrines is a wing who can stretch the floor and Singler is cap filler. The first rounder will certainly help as well.
Why OKC does it: Daryl Morey is famous for talking about risk profile. The Warrior is so good that teams need to take higher risk to beat them. The Rockets interpreted this as meaning they need to shoot more threes and hope for the best. For OKC, this could mean adding someone like Cousins. If he does return all the way to his former self (major if) then the Thunder have the talent to compete against anyone. We’re talking about starting a former MVP, a top 10 player in Cousins, and a potential top 15 player in George. Imagine a Cousins/Westbrook pick and roll and try not to get the chills. They up their risk profile with this move but, it could pay off in a Finals appearance.