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The what-ifs loom large in Alex Abrines’s 2018-19 season

There are two versions of Alex Abrines’s 2018-19 season: the actual and the hypothetical.

The former is 31 games worth of 32.3 percent 3-point shooting and improved defense, cut short by personal reasons. The latter rose out of a disappointing season. From the team itself to the fans that followed its third straight first-round playoff exit, people were searching for answers.

Abrines’s surprise departure was an easy place to turn to.

“I thought Alex was going to have a breakout year, to be honest with you, and be a pretty big part to this team,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He made huge strides. … But once we got into March we started to feel his absence more, and I didn't have somebody else that could step in that was sitting on the end of the bench.”

The hypotheticals came from the fans, too. As Paul George’s shooting efficiency declined after a pair of shoulder injuries, it became clear the Thunder lacked a wing who could consistently stretch the floor. That was supposed to be Abrines’s job off the bench.

Never mind that his 32.3 percent 3-point shooting ranked eighth on the team. Sure, Abrines likely would have improved with more time on the court. He shot 38 percent from beyond the arc in two previous seasons. But he averaged just 4.1 3-point shots per game this year, a career high.

Never mind the Thunder had its best offensive rating in January and February, when Abrines played a combined 15.2 minutes in two games. That wasn't an indictment of Abrines. It just showed that OKC could, and did, score without him.

If Abrines could have finished the season, would he have helped the Thunder down the stretch? Probably. Even if his shooting wasn’t at its best, he at least would be a threat on the perimeter.

Could he have pushed OKC past the first round? Probably not. OKC needed its starters to take that responsibility.

Do hypotheticals matter? Not really.

Back to reality. The Thunder presented waiving Abrines in February as a mutual agreement.

“All I can tell you is it was a personal issue, and Alex is doing well,” Presti said. “… I'm just not at liberty to talk more about that other than to say we support him, and he's still part of our family. He's just not part of the team.”

Presti's comments echoed those of Thunder coach Billy Donovan and several OKC players earlier in the year. Abrines has been silent on the matter, but his presence in the stands for at least two Thunder games after being waived seemed to support OKC’s characterization of their relationship.

In Game 4 of the Thunder’s first-round series against the Trail Blazers, Abrines donned the matching T-shirts the team distributed to all the fans in attendance, blending into a sea of blue.

After the next game, OKC’s last of the postseason, a post on Abrines’s verified Twitter account read: “Still think that Thunder fans and Oklahoma people in general are the best. Keep it up supporting the team, they need you guys more than you think!”

The most common response was, "We miss you."

Related Photos
<strong>Alex Abrines sits on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench during a January game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Abrines would not finish the season with the team due to personal reasons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Alex Abrines sits on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench during a January game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Abrines would not finish the season with the team due to personal reasons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6701760253cdb73e1e05f92910928bed.jpg" alt="Photo - Alex Abrines sits on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench during a January game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Abrines would not finish the season with the team due to personal reasons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Alex Abrines sits on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench during a January game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Abrines would not finish the season with the team due to personal reasons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Alex Abrines sits on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench during a January game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Abrines would not finish the season with the team due to personal reasons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c5d6f0d21a47667262e38a8c045fda7f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Alex Abrines (8) reacts after making a three-point basket in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Oklahoma City won 124-109. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Alex Abrines (8) reacts after making a three-point basket in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Oklahoma City won 124-109. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Alex Abrines (8) reacts after making a three-point basket in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Oklahoma City won 124-109. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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