Berry Tramel: The Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul trade has been a bonanza for the Thunder
Russell Westbrook preferred Houston. When Paul George asked for a trade to the Clippers, and Sam Presti received a king’s ransom from the Clips, the Thunder’s extreme makeover was launched. And that meant trading Westbrook.
Presti, repaying loyalty with loyalty, acquiesced to Westbrook’s desires. Westbrook wanted to join James Harden with the Rockets, and Harden clearly wanted Westbrook. Those kinds of trades don’t happen without superstar endorsement.
The Miami Heat was Plan B for Presti, but he wanted to accommodate Westbrook.
So Presti hatched a deal. The untradeable Westbrook contract for the untradeable Chris Paul contract, with the Thunder also getting from Houston two first-round draft picks and two draft-pick swaps, because Presti is collecting draft picks the way Grandma used to collect S&H Green Stamps.
Houston bit on the deal, not wanting to alienate Harden by Westbrook landing in Miami.
Not a bad trade for OKC. Not bad at all. The night it happened, back in July, I wrote that “the trade itself was fine for the Thunder. More than fine, actually.”
But still, it seemed a bit of a bummer. Seemed like the Thunder could have gotten more from Miami. Maybe Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, without the albatross of Paul’s contract, which had three years remaining, at an average cost of $41.3 million.
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Now we’re almost halfway through the season, and Westbrook has been fine in Houston and the Rockets still are winning big, but the Thunder is one of the NBA’s biggest surprises. Safely in the playoff fold, winning close games and warming Oklahoma hearts. And this Thunder joyride would not be happening if CP3 was packing Heat.
Paul has been sensational, and silly us — at least, silly me — we should have seen it coming. He’s one of the NBA’s greatest players ever. A point guard supreme for 15 years, and time has slowed CP3 only a little. His playmaking and shotmaking, gamesmanship and mentoring, have kept the Thunder relevant.
I don’t know how Houstonians, inside and outside the Rocket organization, feel about the trade. But I know how Oklahomans should feel about the trade. Even losing Westbrook’s unmatched showmanship, the Thunder is better off because of the trade, and that’s not even factoring in those coming draft picks.
Imagine the Thunder with the George trade but without the Westbrook trade. With Westbrook instead of Paul, the Thunder might have a better record (might not, also). But no way would the Thunder roster be as developed as it is.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s ascension would be more gradual, less rapid. Victor Oladipo didn’t thrive in his solitary year as Westbrook’s sidekick. Doesn’t seem like SGA would, either.
Dennis Schroder’s campaign (for Sixth Man of the Year) would have gone the way of Beto O’Rourke’s. Schroder has the ball a lot, even with Paul alongside. Not so with Westbrook.
Steven Adams’ game, from his high-post passing to defensive rebounding, would not have blossomed had old pal Westbrook still been around.
To be fair, Danilo Gallinari would have thrived with Westbrook, whose charges into the paint caused defenses to pull the fire alarm and leave shooters unattended on the perimeter.
And while Westbrook didn’t hinder the development of young players — his encouragement of Terrance Ferguson-like teammates should not be forgotten — Paul is doing the same, only in a more pleasant environment. Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Abdel Nader, they’ve all found niches with a quarterback like Paul.
Westbrook was great in Oklahoma City and was great for Oklahoma City. But the sun was setting fast, and it was time for a Thunder reboot.
Thursday night, Thunder fans should and will rise in unison to cheer on their all-time hero. Thank him for all he did. And thank him for wanting Houston.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.