But the Thunder delayed it a year, as Paul took a team of castoffs and young prospects to the playoffs after a surprisingly strong season.
Paul departed for the Phoenix Suns afterward, and for the past two years, Oklahoma City has been stockpiling a boatload of draft picks.
Observers wondered what the Thunder would do with them – would they keep all of them, or would they cash a few of them in.
On Thursday, they took big man Chet Holmgren with the second overall pick, and he is a player who is thought to have star potential.
Now, we can say that Oklahoma City has truly begun its rebuilding process.
Holmgren Can Become A Franchise Cornerstone
Holmgren, who stands 7-feet tall, was expected to go at pick No. 1 to the Orlando Magic, but they surprised some by taking Paolo Banchero instead, allowing the Thunder to nab the big man.
A product of Gonzaga University, a school that has produced its share of NBA players, Holmgren weighs just 200 pounds, which brings up the inevitable question of whether he will be able to withstand the rigors of NBA play, especially as a big man.
But he is an elite defender who is blessed with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and averaged 3.7 blocked shots a game this year for the Bulldogs, to go along with 9.9 rebounds a game.
Offensively, he averaged just 14.1 points a game, but he is an outstanding and strong finisher, as evidenced by his 60.7 percent accuracy from the field and the fact that he ranked in the 99th percentile in shooting percentage around the rim according to CBS Sports.
Even better, he hit 39.0 percent of his 3-point shots this season on decent volume (3.3 3-point attempts a contest), giving him a skillset on offense that fits in with the modern NBA.
These Chet Holmgren pull up 3's are gonna get Paycom loud as hell pic.twitter.com/HfnoIqyyGS
— 𝙷𝙾𝙼𝙰𝙷𝙾𝙾𝙿𝚂 (@homahoops) June 21, 2022
Despite his lanky frame, Holmgren appears to have the ability to play effective interior defense.
Let's look at some Chet Holmgren post defense on Jalen Duren. pic.twitter.com/UccD4iKz4k
— Chip Jones (@ChipJNBA) June 16, 2022
What makes him even more unique is his ability to handle the ball and create, whether he’s working against defenses to get his own shot or bringing the ball up in transition.
If Holmgren’s work ethic is there and if he avoids the type and frequency of injuries that have befallen Kristaps Porzingis (a player he’s often compared with), he can become a star or even a superstar for the Thunder.
The Thunder Have Lots Of Capital Moving Forward
In Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City already has a borderline star guard who is just 23 years of age, under contract for the next several years and who can continue to refine his game.
It also acquired the right to Ousmane Dieng, a native of France who was the 11th overall pick and is an interesting big man prospect in his own right.
Dieng is 19 and played this past season for the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League.
He is 6-foot-10 and just 215 pounds, but he is thought to have potential as a defender and someone who can create off the dribble.
The Thunder also had the 12th pick, which they used to take Jalen Williams, a wing who has the potential to be a good 3-and-D player.
With the treasure trove of picks they own over the next several years, they could be in a situation similar to the one they were in during the late 2000s when they had the good fortune of drafting Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden.