After pushing James Harden and the Houston Rockets to seven games, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally saw their surprisingly great season come to an end. They had no business entering the playoffs, let alone pushing a championship-aspiring Rockets squad to the brink of elimination.
But it is what it is, and now the Thunder front office looks ahead on an offseason that feels vague in terms of direction and focus. Despite the fact that they are coming off a successful year, it seems like they don’t have a specific direction going forward. The main question for the Thunder is whether they will retain this core and build around a 35-year-old Chris Paul, or focus on player development and try to rebuild.
Here are two different routes that the Thunder could take this offseason.
Go for long-term sustainability and trade Chris Paul
When they traded for Paul last summer, it was obvious that the 35-year-old point guard will not stay that long in Oklahoma City. He packed a massive contract, and his efficiency declined during his last year in Houston. But the Thunder found no takers for Paul’s services, so they decided to give Paul the keys to the team and see what he can do.
The result would be Paul averaging 17.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game while making it to the All-Star game again after three years. You don’t have to be a basketball expert to see how excellent Paul is in facilitating the Thunder’s offense, and his leadership and competitiveness definitely changed the Thunder’s approach to the season.
But Paul still has two more years left in his lucrative contract. He will earn $41 million next season, and $44 million the following year. While it’s true that the 10-time All-Star didn’t show that many signs of decline particularly in the playoffs, it’s also improbable that the Thunder can build a championship-contending supporting cast around him.
Having said that, Oklahoma City could opt to focus on developing their young guns in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley. While the team will certainly miss Paul’s leadership and court smarts on both ends of the floor, his departure will also mean more touches for Gilgeous-Alexander, who is primed to the next cornerstone of the Thunder franchise.
Sign more vets to bolster Paul’s supporting cast
If the Thunder decides to retain Paul, then re-signing upcoming free agent Danilo Gallinari will become a priority. Gallinari tallied 18.7 points per contest this season, including a stellar 40% clip from the three-point line. His ability to stretch the floor makes it possible for the Thunder guards to get creative and drive down the lane, something that is valuable when you have crafty shot-makers like Paul and Dennis Schroder.
Aside from Gallinari, OKC can also look into impending free agents like Paul Millsap, Marcus Morris Sr, Joe Harris, and Jae Crowder. All those names are frontcourt stalwarts who can also shoot consistently from the outside. Most importantly, they could be used as the team’s big men when the opposing team goes small. Steven Adams has had his troubles switching onto quicker guards, and his inability to make a long-range jumper sometimes hampers the Thunder offense.