The sports world was suddenly stopped on March 11. With that came the uncertainty that we would see the end of the Thunder’s season, as they sat 40-24 and with a chance at a top four or even a top three seed. They were about to play with that four seed on the line against the Utah Jazz on March 11. That was until Donnie Strack, the Thunder’s head trainer, could be seen sprinting out of the tunnel. He let officials know of Rudy Gobert’s postive Coronavirus test. That moment protected the health of players and many others, but left the game at hand and the rest of the Thunder’s season suspended.
Talks of resuming play are as optimistic as ever more than two months later, but another unexpected scare for the league in the pandemic could cause them to finally shut the door on the 2019-21 campaign.
If the season is scrapped, or even returns in an underwhelming and asterisk-filled format, does it have much effect on what Oklahoma City does moving forward? Are there ramifications that hurt the team in any way?
Many want to see the this play out, but it has come to the point where we may not. If it did would Oklahoma City be the same team? Their momentum was great going into the hiatus, but the long time off could have a negative effect.
Even if the season started back up, it is most likely to begin with the playoffs or a very truncated regular season. So the Thunder would lose their first round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers from the first Jerami Grant Grade. They would still receive the Denver Nuggets pick, which ironically was acquired in the second Jerami Grant trade. The difference between those first rounders are a few spots in between.
The fans enjoyed the season, the players had great time, and the team gelled while the front office had a chance to see what the young guys have in store for the future.
The Thunder also gained some more knowledge on what the trade values on the roster are. There will be a market for Danilo Gallinari in a sign-and-trade deal in the offseason. It’s also important to note Chris Paul has “All-Star” once again next to his name, and his value increased since the season’s start.
The Thunder should eventually find a suitor for CP3 if they want to go that route. It’s no longer a guarantee they have to attach anything to him to get out of his deal. A team that is looking to kickstart their franchise or a team that misses out on a free agent will likely have interest.
Good ripple effects
In one way, the Thunder benefit if the season gets cancelled. The two teams that they traded with last offseason, the Clippers and Rockets, are built to win now. They mortgaged their whole futures on a season that may not even crown a champion.
The Clippers have impending free agents and won’t have much of a look at guys to replace them. Their prices may get too high to pay. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard basically only have one more guaranteed season and either could decide to opt out. The Thunder own the LA’s future with unprotected picks and pick swaps in the first round. It’s doubtful both would leave, but it still leaves the door open for Sam Presti’s flexibility in trades.
The same goes for Houston. The Thunder own picks and swaps from them as well. Russell Westbrook and James Harden continue to age beyond 30 years old. Their window is shutting, and their loss will be the Thunder’s gain.
What is lost
It would be cool to see how the playoffs go, considering the team is in a win-win situation. But the team should be content with what they have. 64 games was enough to evaluate what their plan is going forward.
As much as fans loved this season, it wasn’t a championship team. They exceeded expectations and Presti showed he was ahead of the game. The Thunder were on pace to win 50 games for the first time since 2015-16.
The Thunder are set for the future. They have an arsenal of first round picks and a young star in the making in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Missing out on a postseason run doesn’t change any of that.
Eyes on the prize
People will have different views on this whole fiasco and whether it helps or hurts the Thunder. When you look at any scenario, canceled season included, the Thunder benefit in the end. Their team is built for the future; the surprise of this season was a luxury.
Meanwhile, their trade partners have been disrupted. Tensions will build as windows tighten. The Clippers and Rockets stars are getting older, and father-time is undefeated. OKC’s outlook, meanwhile, rests on young players that will be mixed with more youth in the draft.
With all of their assets, OKC can go and get just about whoever they want in any draft until 2026. They can trade picks to go get a player, while still competing. They can also use picks to go get a star that is in his mid 20s. Giannis Antetokounmpo? Wishful thinking, I know. But Presti has proven he can pull off a surprise blockbuster or two. Imagine OKC trading for a star, pairing him with the blooming Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley, all while maintaining enough picks to go get Emoni Bates in the future.
Stay patient. OKC is set even if the season is nixed.