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The Thunder Shock the NBA by Trading for Paul George

Russ gets a new sidekick in one of the most surprising deals in years

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Deal

Paul George is headed to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Read that again. Breathe. Take it in. It’s real. The Pacers receive Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis from the Thunder in return. Yes. That’s it.

When Did Free Agency Become the Trade Deadline?

The Celtics traded the no. 1 pick to the Sixers and the Lakers dealt D’Angelo Russell to the Nets. Then Chris Paul forced a deal to get him on the Rockets, and even Dwight Howard got moved. On Friday, Ricky Rubio was traded to the Jazz. Now, George has been shipped to the Thunder, and we have yet to have one free agent put pen to paper and sign a deal.

Winner: The Oklahoma City Thunder

The primary question surrounding the Thunder as free agency approached was whether Russell Westbrook would sign the supermax extension OKC will undoubtedly offer him. That move would attach Russ to the franchise for the better part of his career. And OKC gave Russ a budding superstar who will, on paper, vault their entire team to a higher level next season.

Forget Magic Johnson. Sam Presti is the sorcerer here. Sure, it’s a high-risk play for George, who might leave Oklahoma City after a year, but Presti gave up barely anything. As our own Kevin O’Connor pointed out, Presti essentially flipped the contract of Serge Ibaka, whom the franchise traded away for Oladipo and Sabonis (and Ersan Ilyasova), for Paul Freakin’ George. Oladipo is a promising young player, but his $21 million a year was going to be a tough pill for the Thunder to swallow. The Pacers were going to lose out on George either way, but that the decline of any leverage they had was so precipitous to the point where this is the deal they had to accept is mind-blowing, and an even greater appraisal of how Presti snuck in and closed the deal.

Could George walk away after next season? Sure. But the Thunder already know how to cope with a superstar leaving. They didn’t even have to mortgage their future to dive into this risk. There’s nothing to lose.

Loser: Danny Ainge and the Lakers

Call it the 30 for 30 curse. Was Ainge eating a lobster roll on the Harbor while Presti stole George from underneath his nose? Did the Lakers not see this coming? In their defense, nobody did. The question remains: How did nobody else have a better deal to offer? Reports are that teams like the Celtics were unwilling to offer larger packages for George given that he has made his intentions about heading to L.A. next year very clear. But other conflicting reports say the Celtics did offer a bigger haul (three picks and two starters, one of which was Jae Crowder) on draft night.

These two franchises are in different stages of team-building, but they were both ripe for attaining George now, rather than later. The Celtics had to prove to him that they were a team with which he should sign an extension, a tougher task, but one that could have been worth the risk no matter how enamored Ainge is of his treasure chest of assets. Meanwhile, the Lakers still hold a strong position, but they’ll have to endure an entire season of watching George play, and maybe thrive, with Russ while awaiting the confirmation that George’s feelings haven’t changed. It could be a long year in Lakerland, even if the return could be both PG and Russ (both L.A. natives) in 2018.

Last, but not least, two of the East’s top five players have moved this offseason in George and Jimmy Butler, both to teams in the West. Ban conferences. That is all.