“With great power comes great responsibility,” a fictional arachnid man’s uncle once famously said. Personally, I would revise that adage to say, “With great expectations come great responsbility.” Many an NBA team has lived up to said expectations so far this season, and many others have flopped worse than Marcus Smart. Here’s looking at those who fall into the latter category.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com and ESPN*
Oklahoma City Thunder
Going back to actual team basketball after Russell Westbrook’s “I AM the Senate” season was always going to be difficult, especially with the arrival of glitzy but needy new running mates in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. But the Thunder have been such mayhem that Allstate won’t even touch them. The ball sticks like velcro, weak-side motion is eschewed in favor of a merry-go-round of isolation play, and fourth-quarter crunchtime is where the entire team goes to die.
Rest assured, there’s reason for optimism — Oklahoma City’s hyper-switching defensive scheme ranks second in the league with a smothering 98.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, and they are still a tremendous offensive rebounding team despite the loss of Enes Kanter. A blowout win over Golden State on national television Wednesday was nice too. But 8-10 is not good for a team that had such high expectations heading into the year, and the luxury of time unfortunately doesn’t exist in the abusive Western Conference.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have Russell Westbrook locked down long-term, and they’re ready to pay even more money to keep the core together.
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Oklahoma City ownership is prepared to pay a luxury tax bill higher than $140 million to go all-in with what they have.
Have been told numerous times that OKC ownership is all in with a large tax bill next season. Luxury tax could be north of $140M.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) September 29, 2017
We already had a pretty clear idea that the Thunder were all-in given their big acquisitions this summer, and they’d probably like to keep Paul George long-term if they can. The luxury tax bill, for now, seems to be a secondary concern.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Though there was no single Kevin-Durant-to-Golden-State-sized splash in the NBA this offseason, teams made move after move to jockey with the Warriors in an attempt to interrupt their reign of terror.
The Rockets took a leap of faith and traded the farm for an aging Chris Paul. The Celtics used their cap space to reunite Gordon Hayward with Brad Stevens, then got rid of an asset in Avery Bradley to balance their checkbook. The Timberwolves suddenly became a legitimate Western Conference contender by ripping off the Bulls.
There were so many moves, in fact — so many trades and so many signings — that, now that the league’s transaction churn and burn has finally calmed, it’s hard to believe all that actually happened. To sum it up:
We’re going to see a lot of familiar faces in new jerseys come this fall (the preseason begins Sept. 30). But which of those players will make the biggest impact, and which teams will look the most improved? Which 2017-18 NBA squad will make the biggest leap?
It’s too early to know, of course, but below is my take on the 10 NBA teams that improved the most this offseason.
10. Denver Nuggets
Russell Westbrook is eligible to opt out of his current contract after the 2017-2018 season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are reportedly confident they can sign him to an extension before he becomes a free agent.
Earlier in the week, Paul George implied that he and Westbrook will make a joint decision at the end of the upcoming season about whether or not they want to remain in OKC. According to Royce Young of ESPN.com, the Thunder are optimistic Westbrook isn’t planning to test free agency like George.
Despite Paul George's comments about figuring out free agency in tandem with Westbrook, optimism remains high Westbrook will ink extension.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 13, 2017
Point is, nothing has changed for Westbrook in making a decision. As with everything, he'll make it independently, and on his own terms.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 13, 2017
Westbrook showed his commitment to the Thunder after Kevin Durant left last year by signing a three-year, $85.7 million extension. He seemed to embrace being “the man” after Durant skipped town, so there’s no reason to think Westbrook would be influenced by what George does down the road.
The Thunder have openly said they have offered Westbrook a max contract and are simply waiting for his response. The reigning NBA MVP is eligible to add about five years and $207 million to the $28.5 million he is scheduled to make next season, which would be similar to the deal James Harden signed with the Houston Rockets this offseason.
With the way Westbrook has acted toward Durant since K.D. left, it would be a bad look if Russ did the same. The Thunder have already shown they are trying to build a contender around Westbrook by trading for George, and George is already looking forward to competing with his new teammate in one unique category. It wouldn’t be a shock if both decided to stick around.
The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance on Paul George as a potential one-year rental, but it sounds like it is hardly a guarantee that they will lose the star swingman in free agency next summer.
A lot has been made of George wanting to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, and that is why some teams were unwilling to get into a bidding war to acquire him this offseason. If you ask George, too much has been made of it.
In an interview with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, George said talk of his desire to play for the Lakers has been “overstated.” He also strongly implied that he will re-sign with the Thunder if they make it to the Western Conference Finals.
“People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city,” George said. “But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning.
“I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
The Lakers are a young team with a lot to prove. While George still has plenty of good basketball left, he’s 27 and has already suffered one devastating knee injury. His NBA career could very well be more than halfway over, and he’s not going to sign with L.A. based on nostalgia alone.
“It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s—, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that,” George said. “I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and (Russell Westbrook) do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”
George has a unique opportunity in Oklahoma City, and reports like this make it sound like the Thunder could have robbed the Indiana Pacers. With Kevin Durant having crushed the hopes of fans in OKC, George has a chance to be their savior. The support he would receive during a deep playoff run just might be enough to convince him to stay.
Between the NBA Draft and free agency, the first month of the offseason is one of the most exciting times of year for basketball fans. Trades take place pre and post-draft, teams add new players via the draft, and then the wild free agency period begins on July 1.
Many teams have re-shaped their rosters. Some have lost talent, while others have made gains. Some moves have impacted organizations much more than others.
Here’s a look at 10 winners and losers from the NBA offseason so far.
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
Sam Presti strikes again. The Thunder have a rare situation where trading for Paul George, even purely as a rental, makes sense.
In 2017-18, Russell Westbrook will have some actual assistance from a second bonafide star in George, who can at least help Oklahoma City recover some of what they lost when Kevin Durant skipped town. Westbrook being the entire offense was fun, and led to some remarkable stat lines, but it’s not a long-term solution for winning.
What about the future? George will probably leave after the season, but the deal brings two other benefits aside from the obvious. First, Oklahoma City will have some cap flexibility even if he walks. Second, by making a deal like this, Presti and the Thunder have once again demonstrated to Westbrook that they are committed to building a talented group around him — which could help convince him to re-sign for the long haul when his number comes up next summer.
And after trading for George, Presti wasn’t done. He signed Patrick Patterson to a 3-year, $16.4 million deal to help make up for the loss of Taj Gibson. The Thunder are also bringing back defensive stalwart Andre Roberson on a completely reasonable three-year, $30 million contract.
2) Minnesota Timberwolves
If you didn’t enjoy watching Kevin Durant win the NBA title with the Golden State Warriors, consider how the Oklahoma City Thunder must feel.
ESPN’s Royce Young told Outside the Lines that, much as they’ve tried to distance themselves from the story, those associated with the Thunder organization are still not over Durant’s abrupt departure.
“One member of the front office told me that they’re not actors in this movie, they’re just bystanders, just standing on the sidewalk watching the production happen,” Young told the show on Wednesday. “And that’s really the approach they’ve tried to kind of take with this. But the reality is, they’re consumed by it. They are watching right along with everybody else, and they know what they lost. They look at the performance Kevin Durant put up in the Finals, and what he did in Oklahoma City, what he meant to the franchise, the city, the state, the region, and they know what they lost. And they haven’t completely moved on, and I don’t think they ever will.”
Durant obviously has no regrets about his decision. It’s no doubt hard for the Thunder, who are left to watch on like a jilted lover. One can understand the lingering bitterness there.