July 4 2016: This is a day that will live in infamy. While much of the country was devouring burgers, chugging beer and shooting fireworks, Kevin Durant made more noise than them all.
During a post penned to The Players Tribune, Durant announced his decision to leave Oklahoma City and join a super team in the bay area. He’s inked a 2-year, 54.3 million-dollar deal with a player-option after next season. The internet went bananas, Twitter users lost their minds and NBA chatter ran rampant.
We know what this means for the Warriors: they’ve become even more deadly, they have the last three MVP award winners on their roster, they have perhaps the deadliest (and most versatile) lineup in NBA history (Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Durant) and are set up nicely, barring a hitch in the Wheel of Fortune style game show that has become NBA free agency, to embark on a dynastic pursuit like the world has never seen.
But where does this leave the Oklahoma City Thunder?
The Thunder have lost their identity. Kevin Durant was the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was their leader. He was their franchise player. He was the first star player for a city and a franchise that never had one. But now he’s gone to be a part of something we’ve never foreseen and in the process, has left an irreparable hole in the hearts of millions.
The future looks grim for Oklahoma City.
They have Russell Westbrook for just one more season. The hope is that he will channel this loss of Durant into even more fuel for a player who appears to never need it. While Westbrook looked like the best player in the world in spurts without Durant two years ago, the Thunder also endured some nasty loses without the 7-foot sharpshooter.
There are a number of options for OKC to consider, but none of them look like good ones.
Thunder GM Sam Presti has to consider trading Westbrook, if not for anything but out of fear. OKC can’t dare lose Westbrook for nothing, like they did with Durant. The 2017 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a mega-class and the Thunder could try to ship Westbrook for a package of picks and begin to start over.
They could trade Westbrook for young players already, perhaps Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and a 1st round pick from the Lakers. Still, I’m not sure that either is going to keep them in the championship hunt out West.
There’s always the option of trying to manufacturer a star for a star type trade, but at this point, it looks tough to manage.
With Durant bolting for greener pastures, it’s safe to assume Westbrook might have the same thing on his mind next summer.
Perhaps Presti was prepared for this. That draft night trade, the one that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando for former No.2 overall pick Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilysaova and the rights to Domantis Sabonis, might have been more doomsday prepping than preparation for another title chase next year.
Shipping Westbrook immediately might allow OKC to begin to regroup immediately. Perhaps they should hold on to him, try to work on a new deal and make him the face of the franchise. Regardless, there is no easy route to take for Presti and the Thunder.
Presti — widely regarded as one of the most methodical and sharpest GMs in the business — is now facing the toughest task he will ever face: How do the Thunder move on from Kevin Durant?
The Thunder have lost their everything and its to fair to ask the question if whether or not we’ve seen the last of the Oklahoma City Thunder in a contending role for the foreseeable future.