So what’s going to happen to Steven Adams? That could really be the question.
Will very little be familiar as the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2019-20 season, or will almost nothing be familiar.
Monday morning, in the wake of Paul George’s being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five future first-round draft picks, the second shoe dropped, when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Thunder had agreed to trade Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets for a 2020 first-round draft pick.
Later, the previously unthinkable was put on the table as an apparent probability.
“Russell Westbrook welcomes the idea of [OKC] general manager Sam Presti engineering a trade that would bring an end to his illustrious 11-year career with the franchise, league sources told ESPN,” read a story penned by Wojnarowski.
And, because it’s hard to imagine that news being delivered from one or both camps — Westbrook's and the Thunder organization — without the good chance of a deal being reached, that would leave Adams as a the lone member of the Thunder’s 2018-19 core yet to be moved.
The resolution of that question would let fans know the scope of the tear down and rebuild Oklahoma City is embracing.
It was another dramatic day in Thunder Nation.
News of Grant being traded to Denver did not come as early in the morning as the George-to-the-Clippers deal. Still, it struck before 10 a.m.
Grant signed as a free agent to remain in Oklahoma City only last offseason, yet is now headed to Denver for the Nuggets’ first-round pick in next year's draft.
Later reporting from the Denver Post claimed the pick to be top-10 protected, yet the likelihood of that coming into play is quite slim. The Nuggets led the Western Conference most of last season and entered the playoffs as the West’s No. 2 seed.
Given the haul from George’s heading to Los Angeles, the Thunder have acquired first-round selections in the 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2026 drafts, as well as the right to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.
Other than Denver’s 2020 selection, only the 2023 first-rounder, a pick that originated with the Miami Heat, is (top-14) protected.
According to ESPN’s detailing of the deal, independent of future moves — like trading Westbrook — moving Grant should save the Thunder $39 million in salary and luxury tax.
It’s a figure that reflects what OKC has been up against as a repeat tax offender, because Grant’s contract only calls for him to make a fraction of that figure next season: $9.346 million.
His departure opens the starting power forward position to Gallinari, an 11-year veteran, who averaged 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and shot 46.3 percent from 3-point land last season.
Grant, a five-year veteran, averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and shot an OKC-best 39.2 percent from 3-point land last season.
Possibly making the decision to move Grant easier, he possessed a player-option on the final year of his contract that allows him to become a free agent next offseason.
Russ on way out
By Saturday afternoon, about 12 hours after George-to-the-Clippers had been reported, it was also being reported Westbrook and his agent, Thad Foucher, had entered discussions with Thunder general manager Sam Presti about his future, or lack of it, in Oklahoma City.
The urgency of those discussions appeared revved up by Monday afternoon, when ESPN reported a deal for the Thunder point guard might come sooner than later.
Reportedly, Miami is interested in Westbrook and Westbrook is interested in Miami.
If a deal with the Heat can me made, Westbrook would join four-time All Star Jimmy Butler, who just agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that sent him from Philadelphia to Miami for a contract believed worth $141 million over four years.
Every want-to-be contender seems to want at least two superstars on its roster and Miami would have its two if it can land Westbrook.
It’s not clear what OKC might get in return for the franchise’s most celebrated player. Yet, whatever it might get, the Thunder’s luxury tax issues would be over. Westbrook’s current contract, signed during the 2017 offseason, calls for him to be paid $171 million over the next four seasons.
What about Steven?
Adams is in a unique position, because he remains a young, improving player, only 25, but is slated to be paid $53.7 million over the next two seasons, part of a four-year, $100 million deal he signed prior to the 2017-18 season.
That is, he is young enough to still be in the prime of his career when the Thunder begin to see themselves as contenders again, yet expensive enough to look to deal if OKC’s looking to start over from scratch.
Further, if the Thunder deal Westbrook, Adams’ salary is no more expensive than his actual salary. Taxes will no longer be in play.
If OKC, even in a time of great turnover, wishes to be as competitive as it can be, the Thunder could keep Adams, at least in the short term, simply in the name of good basketball their fans might appreciate.
A year ago, Adams averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds, while also being recognized as one of the league’s best defensive centers. On a team that no longer boasts Russell Westbrook, the idea he might average more than 20 points and 12 rebounds are not difficult to imagine.
Yet, if the organization wants to angle itself toward the NBA’s draft lottery — also known as “tanking” — it could be in a hurry to let him go.
It could also choose to make that decision between the current offseason and the trade deadline of the final season, 2020-21, of Adams’ contract.
In Thunder Nation, that was Monday.
Today is a new day.