Will the OK3 soon be without PG-13?
It's hardly a secret that the experiment in Oklahoma City—pitting Russell Westbrook with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony—isn't working. The Thunder are playing sub-.500 basketball two months into the season, a pretty shocking development for a team some people thought might present a threat to the Golden State Warriors.
Thus far, the Thunder only appear to be posing a threat to themselves.
Westbrook, George and Anthony don't fit well together. Westbrook and George could probably work. George and Anthony, too. But the three of them has been, thus far, a classic "too many cooks in the kitchen" situation, specifically on offense.
And thus, "the Thunder have caught the attention of many around the league, with rival executives already wondering whether George could potentially find his way back on the trade block if things don't improve," according to Royce Young of ESPN.com.
Sam Amick of USA Today added:
"The league is watching the George situation very closely, and there's a general belief that the Thunder will have to act if they haven't significantly improved a few months from now (there are 29 games left before the deadline). With every George trade inquiry—whether it's [Sam] Presti on the call or recently-returned front office mate/former Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan, who often handles such discussions for OKC—executives will be eager to exploit the situation.
"And if that unlikely day comes? Rival executives will argue that his value is depressed because of the alive-and-well rumor he is headed for the Lakers, knowing full well that the Thunder don't want to lose a superstar for the second time in three summers after Kevin Durant. The lack of leverage, if nothing else, could compel the Thunder to see this through until the summer time."
It's too soon to pull the plug, of course. The Thunder could make this work.
The team has been solid defensively, and the talent is in place to be effective on offense. Westbrook may need to be willing to cut down on his usage. Anthony should be coming off the bench for OKC, allowing him to play the starring role on the second unit while opening up more looks for Westbrook and George, though it's hard to imagine the veteran accepting that role willingly. If he played better defense, well, that might help too.
As Amick noted, the internal dynamic within the team remains positive. By all accounts, they aren't clashing and eating away at each other from within. That doesn't mean there isn't frustration, however. George said, per Young:
"For the talent that we have, obviously this is not where we want to be. But we're going to remain optimistic, though, about the future and what we can do. Once we can find a way to really do it night in and night out, it's no panic mode, but we have to start playing better. It's getting to a point where we can't allow ourselves to be at this point. We can say we're going to figure it out, we can say all that. But at some point it's gotta stop."
If it doesn't, well, that's when the rumors can really kick into overdrive.
The Lakers likely won't give up young assets to get a player they may feel they can sign in free agency. On the other hand, if the Thunder are willing to take players the Lakers may be willing to trade solely to clear cap space—think Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, or Luol Deng and the $37 million remaining on his contract over the next two seasons—trading for George could make sense.
Maybe the Cavaliers could make a run at George, as they reportedly did over the summer, hoping a half-season with LeBron James could convince both players to remain together in Cleveland. Perhaps another team takes a run at George with a similar plan in mind.
Most teams would love to have a two-way superstar such as George, after all. He'll be a popular man over the summer as the best free agent behind James. But teams will be wary of giving up a small fortune in a trade for a player who may bolt to the Lakers in free agency.
The Thunder can end all of this talk by winning. Do that and the conversation will shift from "Should the Thunder trade George to avoid losing him for nothing?" to "Will the Thunder be able to re-sign George and contend for a title?"
The Thunder would rather have to address the latter question. But given the team's play this season, the former question looms larger by the day.