Three and a half seasons have passed since the Oklahoma City Thunder traded their franchise player Russell Westbrook to Houston.

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In that time, the Thunder made the playoffs once, ironically losing to Westbrook and the Rockets in the 2019-20 season. While the MVP of 2017 has rebounded from Houston to Washington, and now the Los Angeles Lakers, the debate is still over who won the Westbrook trade, Houston or OKC?

We can debate the winner of the trade for weeks, but one thing that’s for sure is that the Thunder needed to leave Westbrook and start building a team that can get back to running deep in the playoffs.

Trade

On the surface, one might look at Russell Westbrook’s numbers with the Oklahoma City Thunder and wonder why a franchise would trade a guy who was a nine-time All-Star and had just had three straight seasons averaging a triple-double.

To put it bluntly, the Thunder weren’t going to win with Westbrook as their main player and needed to start from scratch again. Another reason the Thunder wanted to move to Westbrook was his salary: He was owed $ 171.1 million over the next four seasons and was set to earn a whopping $ 47.1 million in 2022-23, the latter. year of your contract.

On July 12, 2019, the Thunder sent Westbrook to Houston to join forces with former teammate James Harden. In return, the Thunder received Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and the right to trade first-round picks in 2021 and 2025. Westbrook’s deal was preceded by the dispatch of Paul George to the Clippers. In total, OKC received seven additional first-round picks lined up through 2026, plus four pick exchanges, through deals for Paul George and then Chris Paul.

Sam Presti had essentially created a clean slate for himself to rebuild a new list.

From a sentimental standpoint, this was a blow to Thunder fans who had seen Westbrook flourish and seen him reach the NBA Finals alongside Harden and Kevin Durant. The last remaining man of that trio was gone, but the dream of building another strong contender in the West was alive.

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Reconstruction

Presti began to accumulate assets, at one stage owning 36 draft picks, 18 first-round and 18 second-round, over the course of a few years. The Thunder’s moves in the summer of 2021 would be crucial in laying the foundation for the future.

MORE: A Guide to Future Oklahoma Draft Picks

In that summer’s draft, the organization selected Josh Giddey, the prodigious talent from Melbourne, Australia, with the sixth overall pick. The 2021 NBL Rookie of the Year averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 28 games with the Adelaide 36ers. In Giddey, the Thunder believe they have the player who could be their point guard in the future.

They then signed Shai Gilgeous Alexander to a long-term contract worth $ 172 million over five years.

Those two moves have become the cornerstones of the Thunder’s advance.

Speaking in the team’s media the day before the season, Gilgeous-Alexander quashed notions that rebuilding the Thunder could put additional pressure on him, especially given his contract.

“Take it one day at a time,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “You can only be present. You can only take it one day at a time, try to improve each day in the area you want and then it will resolve itself over time. I feel like it’s been successful in my career so far, and I’ll probably take the same approach with the team. “

Both players are in the early stages of their careers: Giddey is the second-youngest player in the NBA when he entered the league at 18, and Gilgeous-Alexander is just 23.

Oklahoma City also traded its 16th pick in the 2021 draft to two more prospective first-round players in a deal with, surprise surprise, the Houston Rockets.

(NBA Getty Images)

The future

Oklahoma City is still a few seasons away from this rebuilding project paying off, but so far Presti’s bid to carry Giddey that high is paying off.

Throughout his first 22 games, Giddey is averaging 10.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists. For starters, he was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for October / November.

Gilgeous-Alexander is performing at a high rate, and the team is also receiving a solid contribution from Luguentz Dort, who is averaging 17.5 points per game and is also young at 22.

Given the assets they’ve built up, Oklahoma City is also in a good position to take advantage of any trade for an established player to team up with Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander to add some experience to the roster. This is still early in the rebuild so there will be some growing pains to be expected.

The Thunder are also in a good position to land a free agent if their young core continues to shine, a player who could add depth and experience to balance youth and the learning curve. The list of free agents in 2022 and 2023 is one the Thunder will keep an eye on.

OKC does not have a definitive timeline for when it expects to be a playoff team again. Sam Presti is definitely playing the long game here, but logic dictates that if they once again make a smart decision in the draft in 2022, coupled with the improvement and growth of their current core, it will certainly at least make them exciting to. watch until they become a contender in the Western Conference once again.