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HORNING: NBA dealmaking has become a theatre of the absurd

  • 3 min to read
OKC Thunder: Westbrook's future evolving following George being dealt for historic haul of picks

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates with Paul George after a basket during the second half of Game 3 of the team's NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, April 19, 2019, in Oklahoma City. George is now a Los Angeles Clipper and Westbrook a Houston Rocket, the result of trades that produced seven first-round draft picks and four first-round draft swaps, for the Thunder.

They’re going to come up with new words for what’s happening in the NBA.

Perhaps they’ll say a team has been “Presti’d” when fleeced for a player it has to have.

Maybe they’ll say a general manager given marching orders by his superstar star is looking to “Jrue” together a deal. 

Or, when two superstars can’t make their games and egos work together, they’ll say the relationship’s become “Hardened.”

If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you will and shall and may not even believe it once you know, because while the NBA draft took place Wednesday evening free of absolute absurdity, the same cannot be said for the breaking NBA news that led up to the draft, some of which can be traced back to the previous preseason, when we couldn’t have guessed the craziness it would lead to.

Ready to dive in?

Keep up.

Last offseason, though Paul George signed a max deal with Oklahoma City the offseason before, he nonetheless requested to be traded by Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, presuming Presti could make him a Los Angeles Clipper.

He made the request because Kawhi Leonard, who’d just led Toronto to an NBA championship, had decided to abandon the Raptors in favor of the Clippers only if George could join him.

So, really, what choice did the Clippers have but to trade five future first-round draft picks and the rights to two first-round draft swaps to the Thunder?

The answer is nothing, because that’s just what the Clippers did.

That’s one, here’s two.

After that, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook understandably wanted out of Oklahoma City, because what former MVP wants to live through a rebuild and, holy cow, the Chris Paul-James Harden partnership in Houston wasn’t working on a personal level, putting OKC in position to alleviate Houston’s headache.

Westbrook and Paul were traded for one another, but not straight up. Instead, the Rockets also sent two first-round draft picks and the rights to two first-round swaps to the Thunder.

That’s two, here’s three.

Tuesday, all heck broke loose when an otherwise calm NBA offseason evening blew up instead with reporting that Milwaukee had agreed to send Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and three first-round draft picks to New Orleans in exchange for one player, Jrue Holiday. 

Bledsoe and Hill are not scrubs, the first a season-long starter and the other a 21.5 minute-per-game guy for the team with the best regular-season record in the NBA last season.

Despite that record, as you may know, the Bucks imploded, losing a five-game conference semifinal series to Miami. And, given that Milwaukee forward and reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a free agent following next season and Holiday could be the team’s missing piece, well, what on earth are Bucks brass to do but triple-mortgage their future to give their Batman a Robin?

Probably, they’d only pull the trigger on a deal like that if other similar moves paid dividends for other NBA team, right?

Uh, no.

Remember scenarios one and two?

The Clippers, who figured to make a run at a championship with their two stars, Leonard and George, were also bounced out of the playoffs in the conference semifinal round.

That misfortune may not have broken up the team, exactly, though it did lead to coach Doc Rivers, who nobody thought to be the problem, exiting and taking the reins of the Philadelphia 76ers.

And if the Clippers don’t win it all next season, or play for it at least, expect that alleged superteam to break up and fast as Leonard and George enter the expiring year of their contracts while the Thunder still hold four of the first-round picks the Clippers gave away to get Leonard and George in the first place.

As for the Rockets, a few days before the draft, word got out Westbrook doesn’t see himself in Houston any longer and wants out. Since that broke, we’ve heard Harden might like to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

To date, it appears the Rockets may make Westbrook and Durant play another season together, yet what’s clear is playing alongside Harden is no picnic, Houston’s shot at greatness has already blown up in its face and the Thunder will be exploiting the Rockets’ misfortune years after they fell apart.

The absurdity does not stop.

The only way these deals, the types dealt by the Clippers, Rockets and Bucks, work out is if they pay off in an NBA championship. But even if they do, they’ve still marginalized their prospects on the back-end of their title window by trading away their future.

Won’t it be funny if the Pelicans trade away their future, entering the 2023-24 season, just to get Holiday back to make Zion Williamson happy as he enters in the final year of his rookie deal?

There’s the temptation to applaud the players, putting their foot down in the name of winning now, playing for the right reasons and all that. But if they’re all doing it, the chances of any one power move turning into a championship becomes less and less and, oh, by the way, the future has still been mortgaged.

It will be when those same superstars begin rejecting max contracts in the name of building a great and balanced team that we know they’re entirely serious about winning.

It will be when the teams doing the fleecing rise up and beat the teams they fleeced — as The Thunder very nearly did in a seven-game first-round playoff series against the Rockets — the madness slows.

That day is coming.

As quickly as players want to jump ship when every little thing doesn’t work out — Houston, hello — it’s coming soon.

Unless it doesn’t.

Unless in the name of “now” teams cannot find a reason to say “no.”

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