What do you do when your “super team” turns out to be less than super?
That’s the question in Oklahoma City, where the future of Paul George has suddenly become one of the hottest topics in the NBA. Many expected the Thunder to challenge for Western supremacy after dealing for George and Carmelo Anthony over the offseason, but OKC has a losing record at 13-14 a third of the way through the season.
The Thunder knew George wasn’t guaranteed to be a long-term investment when they acquired him from the Pacers. He’s almost certain to opt out of a $20.7MM salary for next season and become an unrestricted free agent. His desire to join his hometown Lakers is well known and was the main reason Indiana chose to part with him.
If the Thunder are somehow able to re-sign George, finances will become a major issue for the team. Russell Westbrook‘s Designated Veteran Extension kicks in next season, boosting his salary to $35.35MM. Financial realities will likely force Anthony to bypass his early termination option and return for another year at nearly $28MM. Add in more than $24MM for Steven Adams, and those four contracts will put the Thunder well over next season’s projected cap of $101MM. Even if George were to opt in, OKC would be far into luxury tax territory with a potential salary topping $137.5MM.
Mitch Lawrence of Forbes believes a deal involving George may be coming before the February 8 trade deadline. He states that George, Westbrook and Anthony are all used to being used in isolation and haven’t been able to develop chemistry as a unit. The problem is that George’s trade value might be lower now than it was during the summer. Sending him to the Lakers may seem like a solution, but an unidentified Eastern Conference GM says L.A. wouldn’t be willing to part with two young players, and the rest of the league views George as a “rental.”
Taking the opposite position are Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, who don’t expect the Thunder to trade George or fire coach Billy Donovan. They report that the “internal dynamic” among the three stars remains strong and there is still hope for a turnaround.
We want to know what you think. Should the Thunder try to move George now so they don’t lose him with no return, or should they wait and try to work out their salary issues next summer? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.