The Thunder is in turmoil.
Paul George demanded a trade and got one. The Thunder gave Jerami Grant away for basically nothing. Now it seems like Russell Westbrook will be the next to go.
Things are happening so fast that Russ might be traded before I finishing writing this column.
Sam Presti may or may not have asked for my opinion before pulling the trigger on the George deal. He really didn’t have a choice on that one — it would be supremely foolish to pass up that bounty of players and picks while also digging most of the way out of luxury tax hell. Presti may or may not care about what I have to say when it comes to Westbrook. Sam’s a busy guy right now, so I’ll just leave my minority opinion right here for him to get to when he has time, probably while pooping.
Dear Sam Presti,
Don’t trade Russell Westbrook.
Oh wait. You kind of have to trade him if he wants to be traded. Would be bad for the locker room and unfair to him after everything he’s done for us. Give me a minute Sam, I’ll be right back.
Dear Russell Westbrook,
We rolled out the red carpet for you when you decided to stay, and we’d love to roll it out for you again. We’ll roll it out 41 times a year. That doesn’t include preseason games but it does include postseason games, of which there will probably be zero. Which is your uniform number, if that somehow makes it cool.
We’ll go bonkers every time you’re introduced with the starting lineup. You might win a few more games in Miami, but they won’t go bonkers for you during the intro like we do. They don’t even show up until the end of the first quarter.
You might win a few more games in Detroit, but they won’t go bonkers for you during the intro like we do. Their pregame intro cheers are drowned out by all the car alarms going off in the parking lot.
You might win a few more games in Houston, but they won’t go bonkers for you during the intro like we do. Their cheers are drowned out by James Harden and Chris Paul flopping and trying to get fouls called on their opponents for pregame handshakes.
And Orlando? Surely that’s not a real thing.
We love the passion and effort you play with. Sure, we’ve complained about how you can’t shoot, rarely play defense and start chucking even more than usual when the game is on the line. Those things were frustrating when we actually had a chance to win something, but now that we suck you’re free to do any and all of those things as often as you’d like.
We know you like to occasionally glance at the stat sheet, get those triple-doubles and 20-20-20 games and whatnot. It’s probably not great for the team but whatever, keep it up. Think about all of the franchise records you could absolutely smash if you stay here four more years.
He’s number two.
Russ gave him a toothache.
Smashin dem records like a cupcake.
No matter what you decide, your legacy here is safe. You’re getting the statue and the jersey retirement. But if you finish your career here, you could be the guy everyone immediately thinks of when anybody says “Oklahoma City” for the next 30 years. Like Stockton and Malone with Utah, MJ with the Bulls, Bird with Boston or Magic with the Lakers.
I went to some games that first season the Thunder were in OKC, your rookie season. You were backing up Earl Watson for God’s sake. Those teams were boring. I don’t mind sucking but I don’t want to be boring.
Flaws and all, we love you, Russ. And no matter what, you’ll never be boring. So please stay.
Dear Sam Presti,
OK, I talked to Russ. Pretty sure he wants to stay now.
So please don’t trade him.
I’ll concede that it would be the best thing for the team. You just traded for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is also a point guard. He needs to have the ball a lot and be the starting point guard. Russ will also hamstring the payroll because he makes more money than God.
But in this age of player empowerment and superteams chasing dynasties, it’s easy to forget what it is that the NBA sells.
It’s entertainment. The product is entertainment. Season ticket holders are attending a Thursday game in November to be entertained. There are no championships on the line that night. Or on Tuesday in March. Or at the All-Star game. Or even at a conference semifinal in May. Sure, those high-stakes playoff games are more entertaining than the regular season games, but without fans buying tickets to see all 30 teams play 82 games per season, none of the rest of it is possible.
I’d prefer it if OKC could have another title contender, but those things are hard to come by under optimal circumstances.
I’ve been hearing about all the great players and assets Boston has stacked up over the last eight years and at the end of the day their best player just bolted and some might call them the Oklahoma City of the East, a decent squad with no real chance to win anything important.
I’ve been hearing about how smart Daryl Morey is, but at the end of the day he’s stuck paying a disgruntled and half-washed Chris Paul $45 million a year because no other team wants him, and the Rockets seem to be clearly behind both L.A. teams in the Western pecking order.
Of course you don’t need me to tell you any of this, since you had three Hall of Famers on your roster at the same time and never won a championship. (You wanted me to give you the unvarnished truth, Sam. Take it like a man.)
The point is, championships are hard to win, even moreso for a small market. It seems like Oklahoma City is more like Utah, Sacramento and Portland than any other franchise, cities where the NBA is the only major league in town. Utah and Sacramento have never won a title and Portland hasn’t won one in my lifetime. So while it would be awesome if we could win one, the reality is that may never happen.
Which brings me back to entertainment. You’re in the entertainment industry, and 11 years ago you drafted one of the most entertaining players in the history of basketball. People watch Thunder games just to see what he is going to do. Re-read the first four words of that last sentence. People watch Thunder games. Russ singlehandedly makes the Thunder relevant and watchable. Entertaining. Just by drafting him, you’ve successfully done the most important aspect of your job.
So don’t screw it up now. With Russ on the floor, we will buy tickets and turn on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Even if you don’t replace the crappy announcers.
It’s not like you were going to get a great young player in a trade for Russ. The main benefit would just be dumping his salary. But he more than earns his salary for what he provides in entertainment value to the fans of Oklahoma City. So just keep him.
You’re a bright guy, you can figure something out. Thunder Up.