OKC Thunder fire sale
THE demise of NBA basketball in Oklahoma City has begun.
In trading a pair of All-Stars in point guard Russell Westbrook and $33-million swingman Paul George to their Western foes Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are the first franchise in NBA history to draft eventual league Most Valuable Player awardees in three consecutive seasons (2007-2009), are not about to rebuild but rather conducting a fire sale.
Last July 11 (July 12, Manila time), OKC has agreed in principle (though not announced officially yet) to trade the 6-foot-3, 30-year-old Westbrook to Houston for the 6-foot, 34-year-old Chris Paul and first-round draft picks in 2024 and 2026 plus the right to swap first-rounders in 2021 and 2025.
Westbrook has four years and $171 million left on his six-year, $233.5-million contract, including the five-year, $205-million super maximum extension he inked with the Thunder in late September 2017 — that is the richest extension in NBA history to date, surpassing the four-year, $169.2-million supermax extension that James Harden, now his new teammate with the Rockets, signed in July 2017.
Westbrook will bankroll $38.5 million in 2019-20. He owns a player option for $46.7 million in 2022-23.
Paul, on the other hand, has three years and nearly $125 million remaining on the four-year, $160-million deal he obtained during the 2018 free agency. He is set to earn $38.5 million next campaign and $41.3 million in 2020-21 and a player option worth $44.2 million in 2021-22.
In three separate transactions this month (including George’s trade to the Clippers for a partnership with ex-Toronto Raptors meal ticket Kawhi Leonard and the Denver Nuggets’ trade acquisition of forward Jerami Grant in return for a 2020 first-rounder), OKC has acquired eight first-round draft choices over the next seven seasons along with four other first-round draft swaps. Add the Thunder’s own protected first-rounders in 2020 and 2022, they now have stockpiled 10 first-round draft selections. OKC has approximately 317 draft selections lined up through 2026.
And the well-paid but aging Chris Paul, the main man the Thunder obtained in exchange for Westbrook, is unlikely to remain on the OKC roster for long. He can be shipped immediately after the trade is finalized. The two-month wait only applies if his salary is aggregated with another player on the Thunder. (For players who were signed during free agency, they can only become trade-eligible again starting December 15, according to NBA rules.) Miami is the leading candidate to acquire Paul in a trade.
With his move to Houston, Westbrook is reunited with Harden, the reigning NBA scoring champion. The two were teammates in Oklahoma City for three seasons (2009-12), and along with Kevin Durant (who eventually moved to the Golden State Warriors and now is with the Brooklyn Nets), helped the Thunder to the 2012 Finals where the Miami Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James and now retired Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh beat them in five games. In late October 2012, Harden left for Houston via a trade following a contract dispute with OKC.
Both one-time NBA MVPs, Westbrook (2017) and Harden (2018) are the league’s two highest-scoring players over the past five seasons. Harden has 11,958 points and Westbrook has 10,025.
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There’s no change in jersey number for LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers in the forthcoming 2019-20 NBA wars after Nike, the league’s official outfitter, rejected the idea.
James will retain his jersey number 23 with the LA Lakers for at least the 2019-20 season while new teammate Anthony Davis will change to No. 3 — his elementary school jersey number — from 23 he had worn since his University of Kentucky days and into the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Potential production and financial issues were the reasons why Nike was unwilling to give up its huge inventory of James’ No. 23 Lakers jersey in the upcoming campaign.
The unused inventory of James’ No. 23 Lakers jerseys already produced would have led to financial losses amounting to tens of millions of dollars.
Additionally, there is a March 15 NBA deadline for jersey changes (with the same team) by players. And that deadline passed when James announced his decision last June 27 to revert to his old No. 6 jersey with the Miami Heat to accommodate Anthony Davis’ entry into the Lakerland.
The NBA gave James a way out, though. The league would waive the rule if Nike agreed. Nike said no and the narrative ended.
James has until March 15, 2020 to inform the NBA if he intends to file an official request to change from No. 23 to No. 6 for the 2020-21
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