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The Oklahoma City Thunder closed Friday night one of the most successful seasons in franchise history with its 96-91 loss to the Utah Jazz, who completes an unexpected playoff exit in the first round and sets the stage for an interesting off-season.
No, this is not a typo or a mutilated sentence – and for every Thunder fan, this idea is outrageous. Four-time All-Star Paul George and ten-time, albeit aging, All-Star Carmelo Anthony to reigning MVP Russ Westbrook should mean at least a fiftieth season and a competition for a congressional final appearance.
The Thunder obviously did not come close to the championship Westbrook said in January would be the best selling argument that the team could make to be George George's free-agent, leaving his declared dream of playing Los Angeles in his hometown , and stay in Oklahoma City.
Fred Katz @ FredKatz
Russell Westbrook on when he feels like he's having a sales pitch with Paul George this season: "No. Sales pitch will be when we win a championship Beat that pitch. "Https://t.co/85253kuguu
In an informal poll from a handful of local media, it was unanimous that George would not be back. A survey among executives also unanimously agreed that Anthony will choose the final year of his $ 28 million contract, which would leave the thunder without George Bush. So, how could anyone mark this season as one of the franchise's best, especially for a club that has reached the conference's finals three times and the finals once in the last eight years?
Looking at where it was a year ago and the dark, overbearing problem General Manager Sam Presti stared down.
For fans and media, success is almost exclusively judged by how much a team wins and how much it should win. What is all well and good, but not how many franchisees measure their success, not in the long run. It is the first order to hold or acquire star players or future assets to promote ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. Especially in a market like Oklahoma City.
A year ago, the Thunder had their first season without Kevin Durant behind them, who had run for the Golden State Warriors to win a title. The team still scored 47 wins behind Westbrook's MVP performance and historic triple-double average before beating the Houston Rockets in sixth round in the first round in five games. It was considered a remarkable feat in Durant's absence, but it was also hard to imagine the composition being much better. What looked like the year before with Durant was that Westbrook had been postponed to sign an extension. KD had proved that another place could deliver what he most wanted: a championship ring. What if Westbrook came to the same conclusion that the first step to winning the title would be to get out of OKC? A franchise that had been in the playoffs seven times in the nine years since moving to Oklahoma City considered the very real prospect of losing a second division MVP in two seasons.
Imagine how Presti would keep his job, if that happened, regardless of how successful the franchise was.
Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press 19659003] It never came to fruition, thanks to the arrangements he made for George and Anthony – and make no mistake, they were instrumental in Westbrook's signing of its 205 million five-year expansion Dollars involved. George arrived from Indiana on July 6th. The deal for Anthony was announced on September 23. Westbrook signed its extension on September 29th.
There is no way to estimate this season adequately without considering the alternative reality. Maybe Westbrook would have switched to the free agency, and both George and Anthony would have used their options. All this would have opened up a lot of box office, but imagine the optics if Westbrook, George and Anthony KD had followed the door. You thought tumbleweeds and bisons in a lonely prairie would have been part of the OKC image before?
There is no question that the second Westbrook completed the final round of his signature on this extra time, this season was a complete success.
The fact is, George is the equivalent of home money. If he does not settle for the final year of his deal or if he gets up with the thunder, this season will be a good one, simply because the franchise never had a freelance superstar of its size that did not exist. t choose to stay draft. This is a huge image pinball for the franchise and the city. While the local media does not believe he stays, there are those within the organization who are quietly optimistic.
Whatever it's worth when I asked George last week about the team's inconsistent game in general and the inconsistent offense in particular He said, "It's the 1st year." Maybe he just followed the script or tried to get rid of the smell, but when someone talks about "Year 1", the natural assumption is that there will be at least a year 2.
There are reasons to believe that the thunder might find more consistency in a second turn. George, a ball-dominant striker for his entire career with the Pacers, went through the growing pain of figuring out how to be more effective without him. Anthony also moved forward from an early age to stretch forward and had to deal with the fewest shots from his career and the second fastest three-points.
"We did not play well enough long enough" Coach Billy Donovan said after the Game 4 loss to jazz, but he could have talked about the entire season. "Consistency was the biggest challenge for this team."
Donovan's belief that it can be overcome by the cooperation of his three stars.
"What I really appreciate is how hard they tried," Donovan said. "I like the group, that we have as people. "
Several people in the organization Ation vouched for Anthony, saying that he had repeatedly said that he would do whatever he was asked to do. This is most likely the room as a three-point threat; play both Power Forward and Center, as he did in Game 6 against jazz; and improves both his strength and his conditioning so that he can defend larger bodies and overtake them to the other end.
Rumors surrounding Donovan's and Presti's jobs have come under threat. Some blamed Donovan and his offense for failing to successfully use the talent of his three stars; The same criticism was raised at his predecessor Scott Brooks when he had Westbrook and Durant. But you've undoubtedly heard of pace-of-play stats tracking the number of possessions a team has per game. The Thunder was in the playoffs one of the top 5 in the league in this division.
However, when it comes to changing the pace in the franchise, they must be in the bottom five. You're more likely to adjust the coaching staff and add a harder veteran assistant – think of Tom Thibodeau for Doc Rivers in Boston or Ron Adams with Steve Kerr in Golden State – than Donovan, who seems to have a connection to all three stars
The League sources would not be surprised if the thunder also turned to Anthony because he did not opt for his contract and offered an extension that would give him a larger total over several years and reduce the cap hit in a given year  The first order, of course, is to find out if George stays. As hard as it may seem to some, think back to that time a year ago. Did you see that George was ever in OKC? Have you seen how Westbrook, the LA born fashionista, has stayed? Or Anthony, who longed to leave Denver for New York and take a trade to Oklahoma City?
As nerve-wracking as this summer may be, the circumstances for the thunder are not as bad as they were a year ago. Worst-case scenario: George goes, and they go as far as their MVP league can take them; It's basically the same place they were after Durant's departure. Potentially OK scenario: George accepts a sign-and-trade so as not to lose the extra $ 46 million the Thunder can pay him, and the team gets some sort of compensation. Best case scenario: George decides or signs again, and Anthony embraces his new role. If all goes well, Oklahoma City, like Westbrook in January, could have visions of chasing a title.
All this is more than the thunder imagined a year ago.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RicBucher .