Russell Westbrook trade to Rockets ends Thunder era Warriors shaped


Russell Westbrook trade to Rockets ends Thunder era Warriors shaped

Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant stood together during Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals as the final seconds ticked away -- cementing a championship for the LeBron James-led Miami Heat -- with the world assumed to be at the trio's fingertips. 

With each player yet to turn 24, the general presumption was that the three would lead the Oklahoma City Thunder and dominate the NBA for the next decade. Meanwhile, the Warriors were building up a dynasty of their own 1,600 miles away, led by young sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Draymond Green was drafted just eight days after the Thunder's Finals loss. 

Despite Harden -- who had just won Sixth Man of The Year -- getting traded away three months after the aforementioned Finals, the Thunder remained one of the Warriors' benchmarks for the remainder of the decade. Oklahoma City even pushed Golden State to the brink of elimination in the 2016 Western Conference finals. 

By late Thursday afternoon, all remnants of that image in Miami vanished when the Thunder reportedly traded Westbrook to the Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two more pick swaps, marking the end of an era for the Warriors' former foe. 

As Golden State ascended from a fun team under coach Mark Jackson to a champion under Steve Kerr, the Thunder always seemed to play their way into Golden State lore.

It was Oklahoma City that provided the site of Curry's most iconic regular-season shot, when he hit a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left to give Golden State a 121-118 victory, helping preserve the Warriors' eventual 73-win season.

It was the Thunder who went up three-games-to-one in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals three months later, threatening to undermine the Warriors' historic season, before Golden State roared back to win the series.

And it was the Thunder who mourned when Durant tweeted out a link to The Players' Tribune announcing his departure to the Warriors on July 4, 2016. 

When Durant left, Westbrook -- as the last Thunder star remaining -- became the symbol for player loyalty in a league increasingly centered around free agency. Over his last three seasons, he averaged a triple-double while the Thunder attempted to maintain a championship team around him. 

[RELATED: Westbrook-Paul trade has big names, but little impact]

General manager Sam Presti acquired and eventually re-signed Paul George, took a flier on Carmelo Anthony and rounded out the roster with solid role players in Jerami Grant, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Fans in Oklahoma still had time to save their deafening boos whenever the Warriors came to town, However, the Thunder's roster wasn't enough to get out of the first round in each of the last three seasons. 

The first inclination of a rebuild came last week when the team traded away George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting amount of first-round picks, leaving Westbrook as the only All-Star left on the roster. Now, Westbrook reportedly heads to Houston, reuniting with Harden in a quest to win the pair's first ring while the rest of the NBA wonders what could've been from the young trio who stood together in Miami seven years ago. 

Forbes: Warriors one of top 10 most valuable franchises in the world

Forbes: Warriors one of top 10 most valuable franchises in the world

Forbes released its annual NBA franchise valuations back in early February, and the Warriors ($3.5 billion) checked in at No. 3 behind the Lakers ($3.7 billion) and Knicks ($4 billion).

On Monday, the publication issued its "The World's 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019" report and Golden State is in the Top 10:

1) Dallas Cowboys = $5 billion
2) New York Yankees = $4.6 billion
3) Real Madrid = $4.24 billion
4) Barcelona = $4.02 billion
5) New York Knicks = $4 billion
6) Manchester United = $3.81 billion
7) New Englad Patriots = $3.8 billion
8) Los Angeles Lakers = $3.7 billion
9) Golden State Warriors = $3.5 billion
10) New York Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers = $3.3 billion

As Forbes wrote in February:

The Golden State Warriors are leaving Oracle Arena, the NBA’s oldest building, next season for the $1 billion Chase Center. The reigning league champs have secured $2 billion in contractually obligated income from sponsorships, suites and season ticket holder fees for the new arena. Look for the Warriors to challenge the Knicks as the NBA’s leading revenue generator.

[REWINDWarriors have secured unprecedented revenue at Chase Center]

The inaugural event at Chase Center -- a joint performance by Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony -- is slated for Sept. 6. The first basketball game will be an exhibition contest between the Warriors and Lakers on Oct. 5.

Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the franchise for $450 million in 2010.

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Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

When Kevin Durant first joined the Warriors in 2016, skeptics wondered if Golden State could make it work.

Would Durant and Steph Curry be able to co-exist? Would there be enough shots for Durant, Curry and Klay Thompson? Would everyone remain happy with their role and numbers?

Those questions were answered pretty quickly. It took a few months, but Durant, Curry and the Warriors gelled midway through their first season together. They went on to claim the 2016-17 NBA title and ran it back the next season en route to a sweep in the 2017-18 NBA Finals.

Everyone seemed happy. Everyone got their shots. The third season wasn't as smooth, but it still almost ended with a third consecutive title.

After losing the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, Durant decided it was time to move on and signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

But looking back, the experiment was a success. Durant and Curry co-existed, forming one of the most dominant duos in NBA history. Thompson didn't "sacrifice" as much as people thought he would, and ended up signing a max contract with the Warriors this offseason.

Now, a new duo — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — has critics wondering if the players can co-exist.

Both are MVPs and two of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA. So, will the Houston Rockets' experiment work? Harden believes it will.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out" Harden told The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. "You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”

Harden used a key word there. Sacrifice.

The players on the Warriors were willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Are Harden and Westbrook capable of making the same sacrifice? Harden is confident their longstanding friendship will help matters.

“It works,” Harden told Feigen. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

While Harden and Westbrook went to the NBA Finals in 2012 as members of the Oklahoma City Thunder, neither has returned since. Both have reached the conference finals in recent years but have gone no further.

Other Western Conference teams have loaded up, but Houston is bringing back a team that is mostly intact from last season and swapped Westbrook for an aging and injury-prone Chris Paul.

So maybe this is finally Houston's year.

[RELATED: Warriors could be 'terrifying' in 2019]

“That’s my boy right there, since I was like 10 or 11 years old,” Harden said of Westbrook. “Obviously, we were teammates for [three] years. Now, we’re at different stages of our careers. I’m excited for the opportunity. I hear a lot of negative things: you can’t, he can’t, they can’t. But we’ll figure it out. I’m excited for the opportunity. I know the rest of the organization is. It’s time.”

The Warriors were able to turn the Curry-Durant partnership into two NBA titles. How many titles, if any, the Rockets can grab with Harden and Westbrook is to be determined. But they certainly have the talent to bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to H-Town.