When the Oklahoma City Thunder were bounced from the postseason by Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, questions popped up about their future. Those questions appeared to be legitimate when a report indicated that Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Dennis Schröder were available via trade with the hopes of getting some luxury tax relief, but no one could have foreseen what ended up happening instead.
Paul George was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for a package centered on a whole lot of draft picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari. Russell Westbrook was then moved to Houston for Chris Paul and even more draft picks. While the George trade begat the Westbrook move, it turns out Russ leaving town had been on the table since Lillard ended their postseason. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle brings word that Westbrook approached the Thunder to discuss the possibility of a move once their season came to an end.
Westbrook met with the Thunder front office this week to say he would welcome a trade following Paul George’s departure to the Clippers. But an individual with knowledge of the talks said Westbrook initially broached the subject after OKC’s season ended with a first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Of course, it’s possible that this was just both sides making sure all bases were covered, but an additional detail from Royce Young of ESPN indicates this might have actually been Westbrook’s intention all along. Young appeared on The Hoop Collective podcast and revealed that Westbrook didn’t try to convince George to stick around following his request for a trade.
“The conversation between Paul George and Russell Westbrook, none of us have really a great clarity on what that looked like,” Young said around the 4:30 mark of the pod. “But I can tell you that Russell Westbrook didn’t try to change Paul George’s mind. That’s 100 percent assured in my mind, that Russell Westbrook didn’t try to re-recruit Paul George, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that it was Russell Westbrook’s ticket out of town as well. If Paul George was leaving, Westbrook knew what he could get on the back end of that as well.”
It does make sense that Westbrook, seeing that the Thunder would want to start building towards the future following the George trade, would want the chance to pursue a championship somewhere else. Still, it’s a bit unfortunate that this is how the Westbrook era in Oklahoma City ultimately came to an end.